Ses­sions vows to stay de­spite Trump’s jabs

Will do job ‘as long as that is ap­pro­pri­ate,’ he de­clares

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

WASHINGTON — At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions vowed Thurs­day to stay in his job, a day af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump up­braided him for re­cus­ing from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Asked whether he was con­sid­er­ing re­sign­ing, Ses­sions said he and his Jus­tice De­part­ment col­leagues in­tend to con­tinue to serve and that he would do so “as long as that is ap­pro­pri­ate.”

“The work we are do­ing to­day is the kind of work that we in­tend to con­tinue,” he said at a news con­fer­ence an­nounc­ing the dis­man­tling of

an on­line op­er­a­tion that sold nar­cotics and other il­licit goods. The news con­fer­ence on the drug case was ended once it was clear re­porters would only ask about a Wed­nes­day New York Times in­ter­view in which Trump harshly crit­i­cized his at­tor­ney gen­eral.

“I am to­tally con­fi­dent that we can con­tinue to run this of­fice in an ef­fec­tive way,” Ses­sions added.

Trump’s con­fi­dence in Ses­sions, a for­mer U.S.

se­na­tor from Alabama and an early sup­porter of his dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial campaign, has wa­vered since Ses­sions re­cused him­self in March from the in­quiry into pos­si­ble ties be­tween Rus­sia and the Trump campaign.

His re­cusal fol­lowed rev­e­la­tions that he failed to dis­close con­tacts with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador. He of­fered to re­sign this spring as his re­la­tion­ship with the pres­i­dent grew tense, but Trump turned him down.

Trump said in the Times in­ter­view that he never would have nom­i­nated Ses­sions had he known he would re­cuse him­self from over­see­ing the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which has dogged Trump’s pres­i­dency.

“If he would have re­cused him­self be­fore the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not go­ing to take you.’ It’s ex­tremely un­fair — and that’s a mild word — to the pres­i­dent,” Trump said.

Yet Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, a deputy press sec­re­tary, said at the White House daily brief­ing Thurs­day that the pres­i­dent had con­fi­dence in Ses­sions de­spite be­ing “dis­ap­pointed” by the re­cusal. She said the pres­i­dent had not spo­ken with Ses­sions since the in­ter­view was pub­lished, but that if Trump wanted him re­moved from the job, it would have hap­pened al­ready.

“Clearly, he has con­fi­dence in him, or he would not be the at­tor­ney gen­eral,” San­ders said. Ses­sions has said he re­cused him­self be­cause of his in­volve­ment with the Trump pres­i­den­tial campaign. As a re­sult, Rod Rosen­stein, whom Trump ap­pointed as deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral, took charge of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, al­though Rosen­stein later ap­pointed for­mer FBI Di­rec­tor Robert Mueller as spe­cial coun­sel to over­see it.

Trump, in the in­ter­view, also crit­i­cized the at­tor­ney gen­eral for his re­sponses to ques­tions in his Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing, where he was asked about his Rus­sia con­tacts. “Jeff Ses­sions gave some bad an­swers,” Trump said.

Roger Stone, a long­time Trump po­lit­i­cal ad­viser, said much of the Rus­sia-re­lated scru­tiny be­gan with Ses­sions.

“Everything that is hap­pen­ing was trig­gered by Ses­sions’ re­cusal,” said Stone, who ticked off the suc­ces­sion of ap­point­ments re­lated to the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, cul­mi­nat­ing with Mueller’s ap­point­ment as spe­cial coun­sel.

“The pres­i­dent ini­tially bonded with Ses­sions be­cause he saw him as a tough guy,” Stone said. “Now he’s say­ing: ‘Where’s my tough guy? Why doesn’t he have my back?’”

Ses­sions was once thought to be one of Trump’s clos­est ad­vis­ers, and he was the first se­na­tor to en­dorse Trump at a time when few Repub­li­can law­mak­ers sup­ported the can­di­date.

In pub­lic, Ses­sions wouldn’t shy from link­ing his de­part­ment’s pri­or­i­ties with Trump’s. When he di­rected fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors across the coun­try Tues­day to make im­mi­gra­tion cases a higher pri­or­ity, for ex­am­ple, he de­clared, “This is the Trump era.”

Were Ses­sions to re­sign or be fired, Mueller would be over­seen by his suc­ces­sor, who Trump would pick but who would re­quire Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion. The at­tor­ney gen­eral can veto the spe­cial coun­sel’s de­ci­sions but is not sup­posed to of­fer day-to-day su­per­vi­sion.

Sev­eral people close to Trump — in­clud­ing his el­dest son, Don­ald Trump Jr., who also has been en­snared in the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion — have told the pres­i­dent that they, too, be­lieve Ses­sions’ de­ci­sion to re­cuse him­self was a mis­take, ac­cord­ing to three White House and out­side ad­vis­ers who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who served on the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee with Ses­sions, ques­tioned how Ses­sions could con­tinue in his job af­ter the pres­i­dent un­der­mined him.

“If there was ever a clear vote of no con­fi­dence by a pres­i­dent in his at­tor­ney gen­eral, it was the New York Times in­ter­view,” Durbin said. “I don’t see how he can con­tinue in this crit­i­cal role in this ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

But de­fense at­tor­ney Wil­liam Jef­fress, who rep­re­sented for­mer Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon, said he’s con­cerned that Trump’s rhetoric about Ses­sions re­veals a larger mis­un­der­stand­ing of the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s role.

“I re­ally think that the pres­i­dent needs to understand and ap­pre­ci­ate the in­de­pen­dence of law en­force­ment,” Jef­fress said, adding that the pres­i­dent is “just wrong” to look at the at­tor­ney gen­eral as some­one re­spon­si­ble for pro­tect­ing Trump’s per­sonal in­ter­ests.


Later Thurs­day, the Times and The Washington Post re­ported that Trump’s lawyers and aides were ex­plor­ing ways to limit or un­der­cut Mueller’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, mainly by build­ing a case against what they al­lege are his con­flicts of in­ter­est, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral people fa­mil­iar with the ef­fort.

Trump has also asked his ad­vis­ers about his power to par­don aides, fam­ily mem­bers and even him­self in con­nec­tion with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, one of those people told the

Post. A sec­ond per­son told the

Post that Trump’s lawyers have been dis­cussing the pres­i­dent’s par­don­ing pow­ers among them­selves.

Trump’s le­gal team de­clined to com­ment on the is­sue. But one ad­viser cau­tioned that the pres­i­dent has sim­ply ex­pressed a cu­rios­ity in un­der­stand­ing the reach of his par­don­ing au­thor­ity, as well as the lim­its of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“This is not in the con­text of, ‘I can’t wait to par­don my­self,’” the ad­viser told the Post.

Trump’s lawyers are work­ing to cor­ral the probe and ques­tion the pro­pri­ety of the spe­cial coun­sel’s work, sources told the Post. They are ac­tively com­pil­ing a list of Mueller’s al­leged po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work, sev­eral of Trump’s le­gal ad­vis­ers said.

Fur­ther adding to the chal­lenges fac­ing Trump’s out­side lawyers, the team’s spokesman, Mark Co­rallo, re­signed Thurs­day, ac­cord­ing to two people fa­mil­iar with his de­par­ture. Co­rallo was one of sev­eral people cau­tion­ing against pub­licly crit­i­ciz­ing Mueller, the Times re­ported.


At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, ac­com­pa­nied at a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day by Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein, said, “I am to­tally con­fi­dent that we can con­tinue to run this of­fice in an ef­fec­tive way.”

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