Donald Trump on Friday declined to endorse Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general he fired after several clashes, as the Alabama Republican seeks the Senate seat he held for decades before joining the administration.
But he also did not demand the former AG end his bid on its first full day, giving Sessions’ campaign life — because of “nice” things the Alabaman said about the president on television. As he departed the White House for fundraisers and an event with black voters, he also told reporters during another wild “Chopper Talk” gaggle he is “kicking their ass,” referring to House Democrats in their impeachment probe.
Trump, before eventually ousting Sessions, slammed the country’s top law enforcement official for recusing himself from former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s Russia election meddling probe. Sessions had had communications with a top Russian diplomat while advising the president’s 2016 campaign; the president felt Sessions should have overseen the investigation.
Democratic lawmakers, however, charged Trump with wanting a political ally over whom he had direct control and the ability to give instructions to keep Mueller on a tight leash. The clash cost Sessions his job and sent him into a retirement he announced this week he intends to cut short with a Senate run. In the deep red Yellowhammer State, Trump’s endorsement could seal the Republican nomination for a candidate.
“I saw he said very nice things about me last night,” Trump said, referring to Sessions’ campaign kick-off video and a Fox News interview that both featured the former AG praising his former boss. “I haven't gotten involved. ... I haven't made a determination.”
Notably, the president did not deride Sessions during the impromptu gaggle on the South Lawn, which could have been a death knell for the campaign before it really gets started.
“We’ll see,” he said of an endorsement before setting himself up as a kingmaker: “You have some very good people running in Alabama. Let's see what happens.”
Sessions praised Trump when he launched his campaign, saying in a statement, “As everyone knows, President Trump and I have had our ups and downs. But here’s the important part: the President is doing great work for America.”
Sessions continued to praise Trump on Fox News Thursday night, saying his time at the Justice Department was “actually a great experience” and he did not regret leaving the Senate to become Attorney General. Sessions also noted that he was an early supporter of the president. He was the first sitting senator to endorse Trump as a candidate.
Sessions’ decision to run could shake up the crowded GOP primary field, but some of the top candidates have indicated they will remain in the race — and try to tar Sessions as insufficiently loyal to Trump.
Sessions said he was interested in speaking with Trump about the race but the opportunity “hasn’t been provided at the moment.”
Trump has not signaled if he has a favorite among the other GOP hopefuls, but has made reference recently in off-the-cuff public remarks to “the coach.”
Trump will be in Alabama on Saturday when he attends the biggest college football game of the year, No. 2 Louisiana State vs. No. 3 Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Meantime, Trump said he would be happy if former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg launches a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Bloomberg signaled Thursday he is preparing to possibly do just that.
“He’s not going to do well, but I think he’s going to hurt Biden, actually,” Trump declared over the loud hum of Marine One's engines, referring to former Vice President Joe Biden. “There’s nobody I’d rather run against than ‘Little Michael.’”
That was a reference to Bloomberg casting himself as a political moderate and his potential impact on a three-way 2020 general election if the former VP is the Democratic nominee. Biden has tried to claim the moderate ground in the Democratic primary as he tries to defeat more liberal Democrats, like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
‘Maybe for treason’
Trump signaled he will not allow Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to testify before the House impeachment committees, which issued a subpoena that the former GOP congressman has ignored.
“I don’t want to give credibility to a corrupt witch hunt,” Trump said, before sending a mixed message. “I’d love to have Mick go up, frankly. … I think he’d do great.”
The president claimed he would prefer to allow “all” White House and administration officials testify but “I have to listen to the lawyers to a certain extent — not always.”
Trump told reporters Friday that House committees leading the impeachment should scrap their planned public hearings because their inquiry is a “hoax.”
He also again called for revealing the identity of the intelligence community whistleblower whose complaint about his July 25 call with Ukraine’s new president set off the probe. And he called for the whistleblower’s attorney, Mark Zaid, to be sued “maybe for treason.”
“The lawyer's a bad guy,” he said of Zaid a day his surrogates criticized the attorney for old tweets referring to a “coup” that would take down the president via the legal system.
Trump also tried to distance himself from his ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, saying he doesn't really know him. He also, falsely, said Sondland testified there was no quid pro quo demanded of Ukraine's leader. Sondland altered his testimony this week to say he understood there was indeed a this-for-that demand.
“This whole thing is a scam,” he said, “to win an election.”
Trump said a number of current and former administration officials who have testified they understood U.S. military aid to the Eastern European country was conditioned on probes of Democrats and public statements “testified just fine for me.”
Trump slammed the Democrats' inquiry, again saying it doesn't give him due process. Yet, despite that, he declared, “we're kicking their ass.”
Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.