Donald Trump has continued his extraordinary assault on his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, piling on more criticism on Tuesday.
Rather than firing Sessions — the only Senator to endorse Trump in his 2016 campaign — the President has preferred a campaign of public humiliation, possibly because of uncertainty over who would take over as Attorney General.
Last Wednesday Trump complained to The New York Times that he had been treated “extremely unfairly” when Sessions recused himself from the Trump-Russia investigation. On Monday he labelled Sessions “beleaguered” and on Tuesday he called the Attorney General “very weak” because of a refusal to reopen an inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.
In the White House Rose Garden yesterday, Trump vented more fury. Asked if he would finally dismiss the Attorney General, Trump said, “We’ll see what happens” — the same expression before firing FBI Director James Comey in early May.
Trump continued with a reprise of his comments from last Wednesday:
I’m disappointed in the Attorney General. If he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have picked somebody else. It’s a bad thing not just for the President, but also for the Presidency. I think it’s unfair to the Presidency….
[I want him] to be much tougher on leaks in the intelligence agencies that are leaking like they never have before….You can’t let that happen.
Trump’s anger has been stoked as the Trump-Russia investigation has closed in on him, his family, and his top advisors. White House aides said this week that Sessions’ dismissal could be the prelude to the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Trump twisted the knife, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, in which he downplayed Sessions’ support in the 2016 campaign: “It’s not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement. I’m very disappointed in Jeff Sessions.”
Trump argued that Sessions made the endorsement not out of loyalty but out of observation of large crowds for the candidate: “”e was a senator, he looks at 40,000 people and he probably says, ’What do I have to lose?’”
Those watching the interview — and apparently not contradicting Trump — included his daughter and White House advisor Ivanka; National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn; Chief of Staff Reince Priebus; Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci; and Hope Hicks, the White House director of strategic communications.
But Trump’s assault is prompting resistance from within the White House and conservative outlets. “One Republican close to the White House” said senior aides have unsuccessfully urged Trump to sit down with Sessions and work through their differences. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial writers headlined on Tuesday, “Trump’s Sessions Abuse: His Demand that His AG Prosecute Clinton Crosses a Red Line”.
Breitbart, the hard-right outlet formerly edited by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, lashed out, “Trump’s Attack on Sessions over Clinton Prosecution Highlights His Own ‘Weak’ Stance”.
The site, and many others, noted that Trump’s demand for the renewed Clinton investigation countered his own shift after the November election, when he replaced “Lock Her Up” with “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t. She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways, and I am not looking to hurt them at all.”
Fox News’s Brit Hume, normally a die-hard supporter of Trump, said on the show of polemicist Tucker Carlson that Trump has a “peculiar concept of the job of the Attorney General”:
Leading Republican Senator Orrin Hatch drew a line, “[Sessions] is among the most honorable men in government today … I have full confidence in Jeff’s ability to perform the duties of his office and, above all, uphold the rule of law.”