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Donald Trump's attorney general Jess Sessions pushes back on criticism

world Updated: Aug 25, 2018 07:20 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
Jeff Sessions,Donald Trump,US Attorney General

Donald Trump has long resented Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the Russia probe ordered by the justice department to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 elections and probable collusion by the Trump campaign. (AFP File Photo)

After quietly suffering months of humiliating slights and insults, US attorney general Jeff Sessions pushed back against a new attack from President Donald Trump, saying the justice department will not be influenced by politics.

“While I am attorney general, the actions of the department of justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” Sessions said in a statement that was described by observers as surprising and long overdue, as he had chosen not to respond to earlier public attacks.

Trump has long resented Sessions recusing himself from the Russia probe ordered by the justice department to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 elections and probable collusion by the Trump campaign. Trump has said Sessions should have protected him and openly expressed his frustration as the investigation has swirled around his administration, securing five guilty pleas and on, Wednesday, the conviction of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

The guilty plea entered by Michael Cohen, a former Trump lawyer and fixer, that implicated his former boss was also secured by the justice department, though not by the Russia probe of special counsel Robert Mueller.

“I put in an attorney general that never took control of the justice department,” Trump said in an interview to Fox and Friends, his first comprehensive response to the conviction of Manafort and Cohen. “Jeff Sessions never took control of the justice department and it's a sort of an incredible thing.”

Trump went on to say that “even my enemies say that Jeff Sessions should have told you that he was going to recuse himself and then you wouldn't have put him in”.

He added, “He took the job and then he said, ‘I’m going to recuse myself.’ I said, ‘What kind of a man is this?’”

Sessions found himself forced to react because of Trump’s charge that he never took control of the department. Sessions has worked aggressively to push Trump’s agenda, as he pointed out in the statement. Among other things, he ramped up the crackdown on H-1B visa fraud and abuse.

He was an early supporter of Trump and the first senator to offer his backing when most Republican party seniors and leaders were unsure of the unpredictable candidate or were repulsed by him. Trump rewarded Sessions for his loyalty by appointing him attorney general.

But as Mueller’s probe took wing, Trump’s frustration grew and he came to resent Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the probe — for not being forthcoming about his own contacts with Russians — and said he would never have appointed Sessions for the job if he knew about the recusal. At one time, feeling sorry for Sessions because of his own attacks, Trump called him the "beleaguered" attorney general.

Trump blames Sessions’ recusal for the launch of the special counsel’s probe by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, also a Trump appointee who continues to oversee it and has withstood pressure to wind up the investigation. Rosenstein has apparently been emboldened by opposition even among congressional Republican leaders to any move to dismiss Mueller.

While Trump and Sessions were together at a White House meeting on Thursday, there was carry over from their spat and officials insisted the attorney general is not likely to be out of a job yet. But Lindsey Graham, a key Republican senator who has the ears of Trump, has said a change is imminent.

“I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the department of justice,” Graham said. “Clearly, attorney general Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president.”

Graham said Trump is likely to fire Sessions after the November mid-term elections.

First Published: Aug 25, 2018 07:20 IST