Trump taunts AG again, calls him easy on Clinton
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump continued his attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, reviving his campaign call to investigate Hillary Clinton’s “crimes” as he criticized Sessions’ inaction.
At a news conference Tuesday, Trump also said he was “disappointed” in Sessions for recusing himself in the Justice Department’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible ties with Russia.
“He should not have recused himself almost immediately after he took office, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have, quite simply, picked somebody else,” Trump said. “So I think that’s a bad thing, not for the president but for the presidency.”
Pressed to say whether he intends to fire Sessions, who served in the Senate and was head of the Judiciary
Committee, the president said he wants the attorney general to be “much tougher” on leaks from intelligence agencies. But he declined to say whether he wanted Sessions to resign.
“I told you before, I’m very disappointed in the attorney general,” he said. “We will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.”
Two Twitter posts Tuesday morning were the latest in a string of criticisms that began when Trump told The New York Times in an interview last week that he never would have appointed Sessions if he had known he would recuse himself in the Russia inquiry.
After Sessions stepped away from the investigation and Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the president’s actions and whether any of his associates collaborated with Russia in the 2016 election.
One of Trump’s top advisers acknowledged that the president most likely wanted Sessions out of the attorney general’s office.
The adviser, Anthony Scaramucci, hired last week as White House communications director, said he did not want to speak for Trump but that, given the level of public tension between the president and his attorney general, it’s “probably right” that Trump wants him out of that job.
“He’s obviously frustrated,” Scaramucci said in an interview with the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
On Monday, Trump called Sessions “beleaguered” in a tweet, raising questions about whether Sessions would resign.
Sessions, 70, has so far indicated he has no intention of doing so, saying last week that he would continue to “wholeheartedly” support Trump’s priorities. “We love this job. We love this department. And I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate,” he said.
Trump was critical Tuesday of Sessions’ inaction regarding Clinton’s use of a private computer server. “Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!” Trump tweeted.
The FBI investigated and closed the email inquiry without charges in 2016.
Scaramucci told CNN on Monday that Sessions and the president needed to “sit down, face to face, and have a reconciliation and a discussion of the future.”
If Sessions were to resign or be fired, Trump could appoint a successor during the congressional recess who would not face Senate inquiries and could take over, at least temporarily, without a confirmation vote. That could allow the president to assert greater control over the special counsel investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russia.
SUPPORT FOR SESSIONS
Trump’s mounting public criticism of Sessions has prompted an outpouring of support from Sessions’ former colleagues in the Senate, where he served for 20 years before resigning to become attorney general, and has left scores of other congressmen aghast at Trump’s willingness to turn on one of his most loyal campaign supporters.
“I don’t think it helps to throw your own people under the bus,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “If you think you need to make a change, call him in, have the discussion, make the change. But I don’t think these sorts of public floggings are very helpful.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., marveled on the Senate floor Tuesday at Trump’s willingness to criticize Sessions.
“This is the first person who stuck his neck out for Donald Trump, who was with him through thick and thin,” he said. “And now, even if the president has disagreements with him — which I think are ill-founded, self-centered and wrong — you don’t ridicule him in public. Someone who is your close friend? That speaks to character.”
Schumer raised openly what many Republicans have privately said they fear — that Sessions’ dismissal would be a first step toward Mueller’s firing. Sessions recused himself from Russia-related matters because of the meetings he had taken with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and cannot dismiss Mueller, but his successor would not be so constrained.
“Many Americans must be wondering if the president is trying to pry open the office of attorney general to appoint someone during the August recess who will fire special counsel Mueller and shut down the Russia investigation,” Schumer said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., declined Tuesday to make a definitive statement regarding Sessions, telling reporters, “It’s up to the president to decide what his personnel decision is and any possible fallout that comes from that.”
And he avoided making a direct statement on Mueller’s future a day after defending the special counsel in a Wisconsin radio interview. Asked on WISN-AM about an investigation that is “becoming an obvious witch hunt,” Ryan moved to rebut that Trump-inspired line of attack.
“Remember, Bob Mueller is a Republican who was appointed by a Republican, who served in a Republican administration, and crossed over and stayed on until his term ended,” he said. “I don’t think many people are saying Bob Mueller is a person who is biased and a partisan. He’s sort of really anything but.”
Most GOP lawmakers kept their focus Tuesday on Sessions. Those standing up for him included some of Trump’s most loyal supporters on the political right who fear the loss of a trusted ally on immigration and law-and-order issues.
“Jeff Sessions is far and away the best possible person to be our attorney general in the United States of America,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. “There is no one who could replace him who would follow through and finish out the Trump agenda.”
Were Sessions to be cashiered, King said, “this would be an amputation of his own immigration and rule-of-law agenda that would be a massive disappointment to the conservatives of America.”
Meanwhile, in another tweet Tuesday, Trump criticized the acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, for what Trump described as his role in the investigation into Clinton’s computer use.
In criticizing McCabe, Trump revived reports that McCabe’s wife accepted contributions from a longtime Clinton supporter in her unsuccessful Democratic bid for a Virginia state Senate seat.
While Trump spent the final weeks of the presidential campaign promising to appoint a special prosecutor to look into Clinton’s email use, he reversed course after the election, indicating in several venues that he wouldn’t pursue the matter.
“I don’t want to hurt them, I don’t want to hurt them,” Trump said of the Clintons in November on CBS’s 60 Minutes program. “They’re good people.”
Later, Trump tweeted Tuesday that Ukraine tried to “sabotage” his presidential campaign and help Clinton.
Trump appeared to be referring to the Fox News host Sean Hannity’s discussion of a Politico article in January about Clinton’s allies coordinating with Ukrainian officials to research politically harmful information about Trump and his advisers.
Trump’s supporters have sought to use this anecdote to justify the actions of Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr. In June 2016, the younger Trump had a meeting with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin because he was promised potentially damaging information on Clinton.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia hacked into Democratic servers and stole emails in an effort to help Trump win the election. Information for this article was contributed by Eileen Sullivan and Michael D. Shear of The New
York Times; by Mike DeBonis and Ed O’Keefe of The Washington
Post; and by Toluse Olorunnipa, Steven T. Dennis, Laura Curtis and Anna Edgerton of Bloomberg News.
House Speaker Paul Ryan sidestepped a direct statement Tuesday on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ job status, saying it’s “up to the president to decide what his personnel decision is and any possible fallout that comes from that.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions was the target of more criticism Tuesday by President Donald Trump, who declined to say if he wants Sessions to resign. “We will see what happens,” Trump said. “Time will tell. Time will tell.”