Trump vents on Sessions, who’s under pressure to quit

Jonathan Lemire
Associated Press

Washington — President Donald Trump cranked up the heat Tuesday on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, scorning him as “very weak” and refusing to say whether he’ll fire the nation’s top law enforcement officer and his onetime political ally. It was an extraordinary public rebuke, and even fellow Republicans pushed back forcefully.

All through a day of anything-but-subtle tweets and statements, Trump rued his decision to choose Sessions for his Cabinet and left the former senator’s future prospects dangling.

“We will see what happens,” Trump said. “Time will tell. Time will tell.”

His intensifying criticism has fueled speculation that the attorney general may step down even if the president stops short of firing him. But several people close to the former Alabama senator have said he does not plan to quit.

Already, Republicans are hearing names floated as alternatives to Sessions, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

In private, Trump raged to confidants that Sessions had been disloyal in recusing himself from the federal investigation of Russia’s meddling in the presidential election and the possibility of collaboration with the Trump campaign. Sessions himself had met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before the election as a representative of the Trump campaign and thus stepped aside from the probe.

As he has previously, Trump said he would have “quite simply picked someone else” for the job if he’d known Sessions would recuse himself. He called Sessions’ decision a “bad thing for the presidency,” changing a word from his previous comments that it had been bad for “the president.” He also said the attorney general ought to get cracking on stopping leaks from federal intelligence agencies.

The president’s first broadside of the day came in a tweet: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!”

Trump’s harsh words drew a strong response from a number of Sessions’ former Senate colleagues, suggesting that all Republicans may not fall in line this time behind the president.

GOP senators refused to even entertain the suggestion of a replacement, instead presenting a united case for their old friend. Republicans control 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats. Since the Senate would have to confirm any attorney general nominee, GOP support for any replacement is crucial.

“Jeff Sessions is one of the most decent people I’ve ever met in my political life,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. “President Trump’s tweet today suggesting Attorney General Sessions pursue prosecution of a former political rival is highly inappropriate.”

Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and others also voiced support of their former colleague, as did several key conservative religious leaders and Breitbart News, the conservative news site formerly run by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint said he understood Trump’s frustration with “the endless media obsession over Russia” and his inability to get his agenda through Congress. But he cautioned that “pushing Jeff Sessions out won’t get Congress to move forward on his policies or stop liberals attacks. And Trump would lose a great ally and widely respected advocate for the rule of law.”

Statements of support came from Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and Jenny Beth Martin, who leads the Tea Party Patriots

House Speaker Paul Ryan took a hands-off approach, saying simply: “The president gets to decide what his personnel is.”

Bloomberg News contributed.