Ex-AG: Trump looks weak attacking Sessions

Former attorney general under President George W. Bush Alberto Gonzales says that President Trump's attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions damage the Department of Justice.

Posted: Aug 25, 2018 3:07 PM
Updated: Aug 25, 2018 3:28 PM

Among President Donald Trump's litany of grievances and grudges, few ache with as much passion as his hatred of his own attorney general.

Over the past year and a half, and as recently as the last several weeks, Trump has broached the idea of firing Jeff Sessions several times, according to multiple sources familiar with the conversations. Each time his aides and advisers have staved off his impulse, arguing to the President that such a move could damage him politically and present further problems with special counsel Robert Mueller.

Trump has responded by insisting has the "absolute right" to fire Sessions if he pleases, those familiar with the conversations said. But he's taken his team's advice until now because he believes his attempts to discredit Mueller are working and accepts the argument that dismissing his attorney general could cloud that effort.

Despite his repeated public criticism, Trump has told people he is wary of crossing a line with Mueller by firing Sessions.

The loathing, which was never private, continued this week as Sessions sought to defend himself against Trump's insults. In the span of a day, Trump accused the attorney general he appointed of failing to assume full control of the agency he leads, executing acts of severe disloyalty and allowing injustice to prevail. At one point, he even seemed to question his manhood.

"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," Trump said in an interview with Fox News this week. "He took the job and then he said I'm going to recuse myself. I said what kind of a man is this?"

Sessions responded in a written statement Thursday.

"While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations," he said. Minutes later he was arriving at the White House in a black SUV for a previously scheduled meeting on prison legislation.

Trump did not address his feud when seated across from Sessions in the Oval Office, a person in the room said. Instead, the two men agreed on several points made during the meeting about a prison and sentencing overhaul bill, and Sessions left the White House with his job intact.

Still, Trump spent Thursday night fuming over Sessions' statement, CNN is told, leading to another outburst on Twitter Friday morning.

"Come on Jeff, you can do it, the country is waiting!" he wrote, calling on Sessions to initiate investigations into a long list of the President's political enemies.

Typically, presidents at odds with members of their own teams take steps to paper over the disagreements in public, even as they privately air their grievances. Trump has taken the opposite approach: making his displeasure known loudly while avoiding direct confrontation behind the scenes.

Two people familiar with the President's thinking say this is classic Trump, because he does not tend to be as confrontational in person, despite his self-described penchant for fighting back.

Instead, as he has clashed with his attorney general for more than a year now, Trump has preferred airing his complaints publicly on Twitter or privately through emissaries, who he will ask to deliver harshly worded messages to Sessions.

Trump and Sessions rarely, if ever, speak on the phone, two sources familiar with their relationship tell CNN.

Sessions responded Thursday, according to a source familiar with the attorney general's thinking, in part because the President said on Fox News that he "never took control of the Justice Department" -- a "macro" criticism that struck a different tone than Trump's more granular gripes on Twitter about individual cases like former FBI employees Lisa Page and Peter Strzok.

Can a replacement be confirmed?

Trump's lead attorney Rudy Giuliani has advised the President that firing Sessions would complicate their efforts to impugn the special counsel, according to aides. Meanwhile, some of Trump's legislative staffers have warned that a confirmation battle to replace Sessions would prove difficult, particularly if Sessions' ousting is viewed as an attempt to short-circuit Mueller's probe.

Republicans on Capitol Hill, who have largely been supportive of Sessions, a former colleague, have previously warned of the battle in confirming a replacement.

Trump has largely dismissed those concerns in private, according to officials, saying he would have no trouble naming a new attorney general who would be quickly approved by the Senate. And some questions about the Senate's willingness to confirm a new attorney general seemed to lift this week.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is a Trump friend, said the President could replace Sessions after November's midterm elections.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who's the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, indicated his committee would have time to work through any new nominations later this year, but said that had nothing to do with Sessions.

"I'm not going to speculate on what the President might do. But I can tell you Jeff Sessions has always been a friend and is still a friend," Grassley said on Thursday. In previous cases when Trump's criticisms of Sessions have ratcheted up, Grassley has said the committee's calendar was packed when he was asked about the prospect of confirming a new attorney general.

Allies of the attorney general were stunned when Sessions pushed back as forcefully as he did Thursday in the bluntly worded statement warning the President not to interfere with federal law enforcement. Two people close to Sessions noted it was a reversal in tactic from when Trump first began assailing him last year. He told friends then that he was going to keep his head down and continue working quietly on carrying out the administration's agenda at the Justice Department. One person noted that Sessions now seemed like he was daring Trump to fire him.

That the President hasn't yet is concerning to some.

"What I worry about is that, you know, the President is head of the executive branch and he decides who serves in his Cabinet. To continue to criticize the attorney general, I think, makes the President appear weak," Alberto Gonzales, who served as attorney general under President George W. Bush, told CNN's "New Day" on Friday morning.

"If there is, in fact, displeasure in his service, then he has an obligation, from my perspective, to make a change," he said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 96677

Reported Deaths: 2911
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7143160
DeSoto559460
Harrison388374
Jackson350570
Madison331089
Rankin330679
Lee273670
Forrest248973
Jones248779
Washington225977
Lafayette219139
Lauderdale2059125
Bolivar184566
Oktibbeha179952
Lamar171635
Lowndes158058
Neshoba1579104
Panola149930
Sunflower147146
Leflore141081
Warren140750
Pontotoc127816
Pike124051
Monroe123568
Copiah119133
Scott117627
Coahoma116329
Marshall110617
Lincoln110253
Holmes109859
Grenada109036
Yazoo106230
Simpson104646
Tate100437
Union99824
Leake96038
Adams94137
Wayne90421
Pearl River89253
Marion86535
Prentiss86217
Covington82722
Itawamba82621
Alcorn82011
George78013
Tallahatchie77321
Newton77224
Winston74219
Tishomingo69038
Chickasaw68424
Tippah67117
Attala66725
Walthall60126
Clarke60046
Clay59518
Hancock58722
Jasper57515
Noxubee55116
Smith53415
Calhoun52112
Tunica49715
Claiborne46516
Montgomery46420
Yalobusha43514
Lawrence43313
Perry42419
Greene38817
Humphreys37715
Quitman3775
Stone37412
Jefferson Davis34211
Webster33813
Amite33210
Carroll31912
Wilkinson30518
Kemper29015
Sharkey26613
Jefferson2439
Benton2273
Franklin1933
Choctaw1866
Issaquena1053
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 134231

Reported Deaths: 2357
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19676351
Mobile13373292
Montgomery8834184
Tuscaloosa8621118
Madison788178
Shelby597849
Lee589760
Baldwin547750
Marshall394343
Calhoun351544
Etowah349045
Morgan329228
Houston290321
Elmore266748
DeKalb241621
St. Clair232235
Walker231684
Talladega216629
Limestone210120
Cullman189920
Dallas179026
Franklin177129
Autauga176425
Russell17603
Lauderdale171333
Colbert164626
Blount161115
Escambia160824
Chilton158530
Jackson157511
Covington140127
Dale138644
Coffee13486
Pike119810
Chambers116442
Tallapoosa116085
Clarke109116
Marion96429
Butler91239
Barbour8827
Winston74412
Marengo72020
Pickens66214
Bibb65410
Lowndes65327
Randolph64713
Hale63528
Geneva6254
Lawrence62023
Cherokee60813
Bullock60414
Monroe5898
Clay5858
Washington55713
Perry5416
Crenshaw53732
Conecuh53511
Wilcox53111
Henry5055
Macon48018
Fayette4578
Sumter43819
Cleburne3805
Lamar3672
Choctaw34712
Greene30315
Coosa1713
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