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
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.”