In an “extensive and freewheeling” interview with Hill.TV, President Trump made his well known feelings about his beleaguered Attorney General, Jeff Sessions clearer than ever. He told Hill.TV, “I don’t have an attorney general. It’s very sad.”
He also expressed his dissatisfaction about Sessions’ overall, saying, “I’m not happy at the border, I’m not happy with numerous things, not just this.”
“This” refers to Sessions’ recusal from the ongoing Russia investigation, which Trump has long expressed his unhappiness about. Sessions’ recusal resulted in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointing Robert Mueller as special counsel in the Russia probe. In the interview, Trump repeated his belief that Sessions’ recusal was unnecessary.
“And now it turned out he didn’t have to recuse himself. Actually, the FBI reported shortly thereafter any reason for him to recuse himself. And it’s very sad what happened.”The Hill
NPR points out that Sessions maintains his recusal was necessary and cites Department of Justice regulations that apply in light of his role in the Trump campaign.
In the interview, Trump expressed regret for even nominating Sessions for Attorney General.
“I’m so sad over Jeff Sessions because he came to me. He was the first senator that endorsed me. And he wanted to be attorney general, and I didn’t see it,” he said.The Hill
“And then he went through the nominating process and he did very poorly. I mean, he was mixed up and confused, and people that worked with him for, you know, a long time in the Senate were not nice to him, but he was giving very confusing answers. Answers that should have been easily answered. And that was a rough time for him.”
This unprecedented public criticism comes at a time when speculation that the president will fire Sessions is increasing. Trump has previously said he would not fire Sessions before the midterms.
For months, Republican Senators publicly warned Trump about firing Sessions, their former colleague. But in recent weeks, that position seems to have softened somewhat.
In August, Senator Graham said, “The president’s entitled to having an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that is qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time sooner rather than later where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice. Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president.”
Senator Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, once said there was “no way” to confirm a new nominee but recently said, “I do have time for hearings on nominees that the president might send up here that I didn’t have last year.”
However, earlier this month Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed support for Sessions, saying, “I have total confidence in the attorney general. I think he ought to stay exactly where he is.”
Trump declined to say if he plans to fire Sessions in this interview.
“We’ll see what happens. A lot of people have asked me to do that. And I guess I study history, and I say I just want to leave things alone, but it was very unfair what he did,” he said, referring to the recusal decision.The Hill
“And my worst enemies, I mean, people that, you know, are on the other side of me in a lot of ways, including politically, have said that was a very unfair thing he did.”
He concluded: “We’ll see how it goes with Jeff. I’m very disappointed in Jeff. Very disappointed.”
Why It Matters
President Trump can fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions at any time. He has not hesitated to fire other cabinet members and senior staff, sometimes humiliatingly via Twitter. If he is truly so unhappy with his AG, he should fire him instead of insulting him publicly and, apparently, hoping Sessions will simply quit.
However, there are two salient facts in play.
The first is that confirming a nominee for Attorney General is difficult and controversial under the best of circumstances. Nothing about the Trump administration functions under the best of circumstances and, if the GOP loses the Senate, the confirmation process would become significantly more complicated. If Sessions were to quit, Trump would be absolved of at least that much controversy.
The second reality is that firing Sessions would make President Trump look guilty in the Russia investigation. It would give him the ability to install an AG who was not recused and could control the Russia probe by firing the special counsel. But to do so would make it look like Trump is hiding something and attempting to obstruct justice.
The president’s life would be easier if Jeff Sessions could be persuaded to quit. And it appears that Trump will continue his campaign to do just that.