Donald Trump goes after his own attorney general, publicly and viciously
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Donald Trump goes after his own attorney general, publicly and viciously

Trump said he would have never appointed Jeff Sessions if he knew the latter would recuse himself from the Russia probe.

world Updated: Jul 20, 2017 19:36 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US Donald Trump,attorney general Jeff Sessions,US presidential election
File photo of US attorney general Jeff Sessions.(AFP)

In a stunning public rebuke of a key member of his cabinet, US President Donald Trump has said he would have never appointed Jeff Sessions as attorney general if he knew the latter would recuse himself from the Russia probe dogging his presidency.

Trump also held out a veiled threat to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, who has taken over the FBI’s Russia investigation, to not end up looking into his family’s finances. He also levelled fresh allegations against former FBI director James Comey.

While Trump has been critical of Mueller and Comey, his public scolding of Sessions, an early political ally when most Republicans were leery of his chances, stunned even his supporters and raised questions about the attorney general’s future in the administration.

“Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Trump told The New York Times in a wide-ranging interview on Wednesday.

Sessions recused himself from the Russian investigation being conducted by the FBI, which reports to the department of justice that he heads, after he came under fire for not disclosing his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US as a Republican senator.

That had not gone down well with Trump, who has fretted about it privately and in public, but never as bitterly and as openly as during the interview. “Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” he said. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”

Trump also attacked the rest of the leadership of the justice department and the FBI, all of whom have had something to do with the Russia probe that has dogged his young presidency from the start, with the focus now on former campaign aides and his family, including his eldest son Donald Trump Jr and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

There was no response from Sessions to Trump’s outburst, but some conservatives, including supporters of the president, wondered if he had gone too far this time.

“No one in America can match the excellence of @JeffSessions as Attorney General,” leading Republican lawmaker Steve King tweeted, adding, “Trump agenda would be crippled w\o him.”

Sessions is one of the most aggressive hawks on immigration in the Trump administration — and a long-time critic of the H-1B temporary visa programme for high-skilled foreigners popular with Indian IT companies — and an enthusiastic enforcer of the president’s controversial tough-on-crime approach.

This public scolding was seen by supporters of the president as the betrayal of an ally, and critics thought it was an unmistakably clear directive to turn in his papers. “The President today effectively asked Sessions for his resignation. Will he resign or insist on being fired?” former US attorney and Trump critic Preet Bharara tweeted.

Sessions is reported to have offered to resign in the days before Trump’s first overseas tour in June, because of the president’s anger about the recusal and travel ban complications, but it was evidently not accepted.

First Published: Jul 20, 2017 17:34 IST