Attorney General Jeff Sessions is getting a presidential job guarantee – for the next 10 weeks.
President Donald Trump, who has been venting about Sessions for months and has fumed about his AG’s recusal from the Russia probe, indicated Thursday Sessions is safe at least through the November elections.
In doing so, Trump is bowing to political reality that firing him would set off a firestorm that would set off some powerful Republicans who have become some of Trump’s staunchest defenders. It could not only feature in a potential obstruction of justice probe, but could further elevate rule of law issues Democrats are trying to inject into the campaign, while Republicans are hoping to turn out their political base.
‘I just would love to have him do a great job,’ Trump told Bloomberg in an interview Thursday, offering something less than praise for Sessions’ performance.
Although he said Sessions’ position was safe through the mid-term elections, Trump wouldn’t comment on whether he would remain afterwards.
President Trump has been calling Republican senators to vent about his attorney general
The show of temporary support comes after GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said earlier this week that the Trump-Sessions relationship was ‘beyond repair.’ Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said in a reversal there was time on the calendar for confirmation hearings if Trump puts forward a new nominee to be the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
Oddly, Graham also issued a warning to Trump Thursday not to try to scuttle the Mueller probe, even though firing Sessions has been described by skeptics as one in a long series of moves that could lead to Mueller’s removal.
‘I just would love to have him do a great job,’ Trump said of Jeff Sessions
Trump hates Sessions’ Southern accent, and complains to aides that he ‘talks like he has marbles in his mouth,’ Politico reported
‘There is no scenario where you can end this investigation, the Mueller investigation, through some political intrigue, and survive,’ Graham told CBS. ‘That’s the end of you. The only person in America that can clear Donald Trump is [special counsel Robert] Mueller.’
Trump made the comment in a week where Trump announced the fall departure of White House counsel Don McGahn. In a Thursday tweet, Trump wrote that McGahn was not responsible for him ‘not firing’ Sessions and special counsel Robert Mueller. The tweet could be read as a possible indication Trump did consider or try to fire both men.
‘I am very excited about the person who will be taking the place of Don McGahn as White House Councel!’ Trump tweeted, originally misspelling the word counsel.
‘I liked Don, but he was NOT responsible for me not firing Bob Mueller or Jeff Sessions. So much Fake Reporting and Fake News!’ the president wrote.
The Washington Post this week reported that White House lawyers talked Trump out of firing Sessions.
Even with the public show of at least some confidence in Sessions, Trump has been calling Republican senators to vent his fury about his AG.
Trump has spent the past 10 days unleashing his ire at Sessions to ‘any senator who will listen,’ one Republican Senate aide told Politico.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Trump’s relationship declined when Sessions recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation
Among the claims is that Trump regrets Sessions has no Ivy League credentials (he went to the University of Alabama), Trump hates his Southern accent, and complains to aides that he ‘talks like he has marbles in his mouth,’ according to the report – notwithstanding the South being a key component of Trump’s political base.
Sessions has been a repeated target of the president’s twitter rants as Trump has publicly expressed his frustration with his attorney general’s unwillingness to interfere in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation or to fire senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr.
The negative campaign seems to have some positive effects for Trump as two influential Republican senators have indicated Sessions could be on his way out.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, the current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, who could take over the committee in 2019, each indicated to Bloomberg News earlier this month that there could be confirmation hearings for a new attorney general in the coming months.
Additionally Graham told NBC News on Tuesday that the president and Sessions’ relationship was ‘beyond repair’ and he advised Trump to replace the attorney general.
‘We need an attorney general that can work with the president, that can lead the Department of Justice,’ Graham said on the ‘Today Show.’
And when he was asked on CBS ‘This Morning’ if the president has cause to fire Sessions, Graham replied: ‘I think you serve at the pleasure of the president.’
Grassley said he had he’d have more time for confirmation hearings for a new attorney general this fall than he did last year – a questionable remark given the Senate’s busy fall schedule that will see his committee hold hearings on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the entire upper chamber work on funding the government.
The two senators are said to irritated by Sessions’ opposition to a criminal justice reform bill they support.
And a source close to Sessions told CNN after Grassley’s remarks that the attorney general wasn’t going to be ‘blackmailed’ into supporting a criminal justice bill he didn’t agree with.
The legislation, which Trump has tabled until after the election, is also supported by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Kushner, Graham and other senators have urged the president to include sentencing revisions in the package, an idea Sessions opposes.
Besides irritating Kushner, Sessions is also said to have lost the support of Ivanka Trump.
Trump raised the idea of firing Sessions in a phone call with Graham last week, congressional aides told Politico, although Graham advised him to wait until after the November election.
Sen. Lindsey Graham said the president and Sessions’ relationship was ‘beyond repair’
Sen. Chuck Grassley said he had he’d have more time for confirmation hearings for a new attorney general this fall
The president has also floated his plan to his legal team who have warned him such a move could feed Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice in the Russia probe, a probe that was trigged by the president’s firing of former FBI director James Comey.
But some of Trump’s team feel that Mueller will make an obstruction case whether Sessions is fired or not.
The attorney general does maintain the support of one key ally in the Senate – Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
‘I have total confidence in the attorney general; I think he ought to stay exactly where he is,’ McConnell told reporters on Tuesday.
Trump’s public fury at Sessions has increased since his former campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud and his former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts of campaign finance reform.
The president told ‘Fox & Friends’ last week that Sessions ‘never took control of the Justice Department.’
That prompted Sessions to fire back in a rare public statement on the criticism he’s received from Trump.
‘I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the President’s agenda,’ Sessions said.
‘While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,’ he added.
Sessions, when he was a senator from Alabama, was one of Trump’s earliest supporters on Capitol Hill – loyalty that earned him the top spot at the Justice Department.
But the two men’s relationship soured when Sessions recused himself from overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election, a move that infuriated the president.
‘The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn’t tell me he was going to recuse himself…I would have quickly picked someone else. So much time and money wasted, so many lives ruined…and Sessions knew better than most that there was No Collusion!’ Trump tweeted in June.
Sessions announced his recusal in March 2017, citing a recommendation from the ethics office at the Justice Department.
‘They said that since I had involvement with the campaign, I should not be involved in any campaign investigation,’ Sessions said at the time.
Sessions is also said to have lost the support of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump
Jeff Sessions, when he was a senator, was one of Trump’s first supporters on Capitol Hill
Sessions met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice during the campaign and did not disclose that to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his January confirmation hearing.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Republican who was nominated by Trump to the number two slot at Justice, is overseeing the investigation.
Graham told CBS ‘This Morning’ the cracks in the Trump-Sessions relationship goes beyond the recusal.
‘The problems between the White House and the president and Attorney General Sessions go well beyond the recusal. I hope they can repair these problems, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon,’ he said.