President Donald Trump is holding his cards close on whether he intends to fire Jeff Sessions, his hand-picked attorney general he now worries is too “weak” and “beleaguered” to do the job.
“I am very disappointed with the attorney general,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden during a joint news conference with his Lebanese counterpart. “He should not have recused himself” from the Justice Department’s Russia election investigation “almost immediately after he took office.”
Trump labeled that March decision by Sessions “unfair to the presidency,” saying then-Sen. Sessions should have informed him before Trump nominated him of his intention to step aside from the investigation, and if he had done so, the president on Tuesday reiterated his stance that he would have chosen someone else to be the country’s top law enforcement officer.
The president’s move against a sitting attorney general is striking in several ways: He seems to be signaling he wants a friendly AG who will be an active participant in the Russia investigation, and one who might even fire special counsel Robert Mueller; and because even some Republicans worry Trump is chipping away at the Justice Department’s independence.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump, for the second consecutive day, laid into Sessions with an early morning Twitter attack.
The president wrote that the AG “has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!”
Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign - "quietly working to boost Clinton." So where is the investigation A.G. @seanhannity— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2017
Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign - "quietly working to boost Clinton." So where is the investigation A.G. @seanhannity
That tweet prompted several senior GOP senators to speak out on Session’s behalf — with one criticizing Trump.
“President Trump’s tweet today suggesting Attorney General Sessions pursue prosecution of a former political rival is highly inappropriate," Graham said in a statement. "Prosecutorial decisions should be based on applying facts to the law without hint of political motivation. To do otherwise is to run away from the long-standing American tradition of separating the law from politics regardless of party."
Republican members have rarely been so harsh when speaking of Trump, who they need to sign their domestic policies into law and nominate conservative federal and Supreme Court justices.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, called Sessions “a friend, former colleague, and an honorable person.”
“He is a man of deep conviction and principle who believes in the rule of law,” Portman said in a statement. “We may not agree on every policy issue, but I believe he always has the best interests of our country at heart.”
Trump did not directly answer a reporter’s question about why he doesn’t just fire Sessions if he has lost confidence in him. And he voiced disagreement with the notion he is leaving his AG twisting in the wind by repeatedly publicly hammering him.
The president did not sketch out a path for Sessions to regain his confidence or keep his job other than saying this: “I want the attorney general to be much tougher on the leaks from intelligence agencies, which are leaking like rarely have they leaked before at a really important level.” (He did not provide any evidence for that historical claim.) Trump then dropped one of his often-employed phrases when he is still mulling a big decision: “But we’ll see what happens.”
“Time will tell,” he said of Sessions’ future. “Time will tell.”
With even a truncated August recess fast approaching, time is exactly what top Senate Democrats are worried about. That’s why Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., was quick to warn the president against trying anything sly — like a recess appointment to replace Sessions — while senators are back home for a few weeks.
“We have some tools in our toolbox to stymie such action. We’ll be ready to use every single one of them, any time, day or night,” Schumer said Tuesday amid reports of Trump’s open talking of firing Sessions and even of possible replacements.
Schumer also tried to pressure GOP leaders to opt against playing a part in anything the White House might be cooking up for the dog days of summer.
“I cannot imagine my friends on the Republican side, and particularly in the Republican leadership ... would be complicit in creating a constitutional crisis,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “They must work with us and not open the door to a constitutional crisis during the August recess.”
Former FBI Director James B. Comey was a central figure in the investigations into scandals surrounding the 2016 presidential campaign and the Trump administration before he was abruptly fired Tuesday.
His unusual choice to announce, just a week and a half before Election Day, that the FBI had reopened its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server is widely believed to have impacted the course of the election.
His departure raises questions about the future of the FBI investigation into connections between the Russian government and members of Trump’s inner circle.
Here’s a look back at how it came to this:
The New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton used a personal email account while she was Secretary of State, a violation of State Department policies and a potential security risk.
Clinton announces she is running for president.
The inspector general for the intelligence community alerts Congressional oversight committees that classified material had been found on Hillary Clinton’s home email server that she had used as Secretary of State. The FBI opens a criminal investigation.
Officials at the Democratic National Committee learn that Russian hackers have invaded their computer system.
Comey delivers a blistering critique of Clinton at a press conference, saying her handling of classified material was, “extremely careless,” and hackers may have compromised her emails. But he concluded that he was recommending against charging Clinton in the case.
Comey testifies before Congress about the Clinton investigation, repeating his criticism and discussing his decision to close the case. He repeats his assertion that the case is closed.
Trump, at a press conference, says he hopes the Russian government has hacked Clinton’s emails and implores it to publish what it found. The comment fuels questions about the Russian government meddling in the campaign.
The FBI opens an investigation into members of the Trump campaigns’ contacts with the Russian government.
Reports surface that former Democratic New York Rep. Anthony Weiner had exchanged sexually explicit messages with a 15-year-old girl, potentially violating child pornography laws.
FBI investigators seize Weiner’s computer. Weiner was married at the time to Clinton confidante and campaign aide Huma Abedin. Agents discover that thousands of Abedin’s emails had been backed up on Weiner’s computers, including some that had apparently moved through Cinton’s server.
Wikileaks begins publishing hacked emails from the private account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Comey learns of the Clinton emails on Weiner’s server. He determines that he is obligated to tell Congress he is reopening the investigation. He does so in a letter on Oct. 28.
Days before the election, Comey sends a letter to Congress saying that the new emails did not contain any new information.
Trump is elected president.
Comey acknowledges for the first during testimony before the House intelligence Committee that the FBI is investigating connections between members of the Trump administration and the Russian government.
Comey testifies before Congress that Abedin regularly sent emails to Weiner so he could print them out, and that she had sent, “hundreds of thousands of emails,” to Weiner, “some of which contain classified information.”
ProPublica reports that Comey exaggerated the number of emails that Abedin sent to Weiner.
The Washington Post and the Associated Press report that none of the emails were designated as classified when they were sent.
The FBI sends a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley correcting details from Comey’s testimony.
Trump announces that Comey has been dismissed.
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Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's campaign chairman, has resigned, the campaign announced in a statement Friday.
"This morning Paul Manafort offered, and I accepted, his resignation from the campaign," Trump said. "I am very appreciative for his great work in helping to get us where we are today, and in particular his guiding us through the delegate and convention process. Paul is a true professional and I wish him the greatest success."
Manfort's role in the campaign was reportedly diminished this week with the Republican presidential nominee naming longtime adviser Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon as chief executive.
Trump told The Wall Street Journal that he was making the changes because “I want to win. That’s why I’m bringing on fantastic people who know how to win and love to win.”
Friction reportedly developed between Manafort and Trump over the campaign's direction as his poll numbers fell against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Manafort himself has been a distraction to the campaign over questions about his previous business dealings in Ukraine.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Manafort helped a pro-Russia group in Ukraine secretly route more than $2 million in payments to two Washington lobbying firms to try to influence U.S. policy.
On Friday, the AP reported that emails showed Manafort's company led the effort to sway American public opinion in favor of Ukraine's pro-Russian government.
According to the AP, Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates tried to gain positive coverage of Ukrainian politicians in newspapers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
The report also said Gates, who worked for Manafort at the time, directed Washington, D.C., law firms Mercury LLC and the Podesta Group to set up meetings between Ukrainian officials and members of Congress.
The Podesta Group was co-founded by Tony and John Podesta, who now serves as campaign chairman for Clinton.
The New York Times reported this week that handwritten ledgers designated $12.7 million in payments to Manafort from the pro-Russian party of former President Viktor Yanukovych.