STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

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: 27900

Reported Deaths: 1082
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds215239
DeSoto137316
Madison122234
Jones106949
Neshoba96069
Lauderdale88278
Rankin84112
Forrest81442
Scott75015
Harrison7448
Copiah56615
Leake54819
Jackson53316
Holmes52741
Wayne52112
Washington4969
Lee49316
Oktibbeha48624
Yazoo4736
Leflore47249
Lowndes45311
Warren44317
Lincoln43534
Lamar4197
Grenada3805
Monroe36729
Pike36712
Attala35223
Lafayette3524
Newton3289
Sunflower3066
Covington3025
Bolivar27713
Panola2706
Adams26718
Chickasaw25918
Tate2577
Jasper2506
Marion24811
Pontotoc2476
Noxubee2458
Pearl River24432
Winston2435
Clay24210
Claiborne23610
Simpson2303
Smith20611
Clarke20124
Marshall2013
Coahoma1866
Kemper17614
Union1759
Walthall1724
Yalobusha1617
Carroll16011
Lawrence1591
Itawamba1278
Calhoun1244
Humphreys1239
Tippah12311
Webster12310
Montgomery1222
Hancock12013
Jefferson Davis1064
Tallahatchie1043
Prentiss983
Greene927
Jefferson923
Wilkinson919
Tunica893
Amite822
George743
Choctaw714
Quitman680
Tishomingo681
Perry614
Alcorn561
Stone521
Franklin382
Benton270
Sharkey240
Issaquena71
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 38442

Reported Deaths: 947
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson4387142
Montgomery383999
Mobile3697134
Tuscaloosa204938
Marshall153710
Lee118937
Shelby108223
Madison10577
Morgan9813
Walker86723
Franklin85213
Dallas8198
Elmore81314
Baldwin6869
Etowah62513
Butler60427
DeKalb6025
Chambers58127
Tallapoosa56369
Autauga54511
Unassigned52025
Russell4840
Lowndes45820
Lauderdale4446
Houston4344
Limestone4090
Cullman4003
Pike3995
Colbert3685
Bullock3629
Coffee3532
Barbour3231
Covington3087
St. Clair3042
Hale29321
Marengo28611
Wilcox2808
Sumter27612
Calhoun2705
Talladega2677
Clarke2665
Escambia2636
Dale2440
Jackson2382
Winston2333
Blount2141
Chilton2112
Pickens2116
Marion20312
Monroe1972
Choctaw19212
Conecuh1804
Bibb1711
Macon1708
Randolph1709
Greene1667
Perry1451
Henry1303
Crenshaw1233
Lawrence1010
Washington1007
Cherokee747
Lamar711
Fayette671
Geneva670
Clay582
Coosa551
Cleburne291
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Overcast
74° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 74°
Feels Like: 74°
Columbus
Overcast
72° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 72°
Oxford
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 72°
Starkville
Overcast
70° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 70°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather