WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired back at President Donald Trump yesterday after Trump gave a scathing assessment of his leadership at the Justice Department.
Sessions, a former U.S. senator from Alabama, was one of the first Republican lawmakers to back Trump’s presidential election bid and has implemented his hardline immigration policies in the role of attorney general.
But Trump has repeatedly criticized Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing a probe into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow. Trump denies any collusion and calls the investigation a “witch hunt.”
“I put in an attorney general who never took control of the Justice Department,” Trump said in a Fox News interview that aired on Thursday. “He took the job and then he said: ‘I’m going to recuse myself.’ … I said, ‘What kind of a man is this?’”
In a rare rebuttal to Trump, Sessions quickly moved to defend himself.
“I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in,” Sessions said in a statement. “While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”
The response sparked new speculation that Trump might fire Sessions, although some senior Republican lawmakers offered the attorney general support.
“I know this is a difficult position for him to be in, but I think it would be bad for the country, it would be bad for the president, it would be bad for the Department of Justice for him to be forced out under these circumstances,” said Senator John Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican.
Senator Lindsey Graham, who is both close to Trump and a defender of Sessions, said he believed Trump would appoint a new attorney general but should wait until after Nov. 6 congressional elections, in which Republicans are seeking to maintain control of both the House of Representatives and Senate.
The public spat between Sessions and the president came two days after Trump’s former election campaign manager Paul Manafort was convicted on tax and bank fraud charges, and Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges.
Cohen also said Trump directed him to pay off two