Sessions defends himself against Trump attacks
Washington – Attorney General Jeff Sessions is defending himself against President Donald Trump’s attacks about how the nation’s top law enforcement official is handling Republican complaints about the Russia investigation.
Sessions rarely stands up in public to criticism from his boss. But this time, Sessions is fighting back, saying he’s done the right thing by referring allegations of FBI surveillance abuse to the Justice Department’s internal watchdog.
And Sessions says in a public statement that “as long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor.”
Earlier Wednesday, Trump said Sessions’ decision to rely on the department’s inspector general for the review was “disgraceful” – and claimed that the inquiry would “take forever.” Trump said he preferred that Justice Department lawyers handle the matter.
But Sessions says “we have initiated the appropriate process that will ensure complaints against this department will be fully and fairly acted upon if necessary.”
Sessions said Tuesday that the Justice Department’s inspector general will evaluate whether prosecutors and agents wrongly obtained a warrant to monitor the communications of a Trump associate. This is in response to pressure from congressional Republicans who, like Trump, have been fuming about what they believe to be bias within the FBI.
But to Trump, who has spent the past year berating his attorney general, that step apparently did not go far enough.
Trump wrote on Twitter: “Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!”
Sessions asked the watchdog office to investigate whether agents abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but it has not said publicly that it will. Trump is angry that Sessions referred the allegations of Justice Department employee misconduct to the inspector general, but that’s exactly what the office is charged with doing. Its attorneys are part of the Justice Department and, contrary to Trump’s claims, can and often do refer matters for prosecution.
The office has been working on a separate review of the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation but that report is not late and is expected to be released around March or April.
It was the latest of Trump’s attacks on Sessions, who continues to faithfully execute Trump’s agenda. A day earlier, for example, Sessions said his Justice Department was working toward banning rapid-fire bump stock devices at Trump’s urging, even though the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had previously said it was powerless to do so without action from Congress.
Sessions has been largely silent in the face of Trump’s extraordinary insults, which critics say has strained department morale and made Sessions seem eager to appease his boss at risk of dangerously politicizing the Justice Department. A spokeswoman declined to comment Wednesday.
The two bonded early in Trump’s campaign over their shared priorities of fighting urban crime and illegal immigration.
But their relationship was strained by Sessions’ decision to step aside from the Russia probe after facing questions about his own contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. during the campaign. Trump blames that move for the eventual appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to oversee the sprawling investigation. Sessions has become a scapegoat for Trump’s anger. Trump has not directly attacked the special counsel.
The criticism was so harsh that Sessions offered last year to resign, which Trump refused to accept. Trump has since been relentlessly pressuring Sessions to investigate political rivals.
Trump and Republicans had also been encouraging Sessions to look further into the surveillance abuse allegations. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested Tuesday that Trump would be pleased with Sessions’ referral to the inspector general.
“It’s something that he’s clearly had frustration over so I would imagine he certainly support the decision to look into what we feel to be some wrongdoing,” she said. “I think that’s the role of the Department of Justice and we’re glad that they’re fulfilling that job.”