Attorney General Jeff Sessions is in a bind after President Donald Trump criticized him in a New York Times interview for his decision to back out of the ongoing Russian probe.
The president’s contemptuous public remarks about the attorney general have fueled renewed speculation regarding whether the country’s top justice authority has his support and trust. However, on Thursday, Sessions clarified his stance, saying he had no plans to leave the office. A number of Republicans then hastened to defend him.
Republican Rep. Chris Collins (N.Y.), one of Trump’s earliest supporters, says he backs Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russian investigation. He said, “I think Jeff Sessions has been and will continue to be an excellent attorney general.”
He added, “I don’t expect Jeff Sessions to resign, I would not want him to resign.”
Republicans and surprisingly, some of Trump’s supporters, were shocked to see Trump criticize his own attorney general and closest ally, so publicly.
Former President Bush’s Department of Homeland Security chief, John Wood, said that while Sessions could continue his job as the attorney general following the president’s criticism, he believes the remarks could hinder his work as the head of the department.
“I don’t think it is to the point where Sessions has lost the ability to run the department,” he said.
In the interview on Wednesday, Trump told the New York Times that he wouldn’t have appointed Sessions as his attorney general if he had known he would have recused himself.
“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,'” Trump said.
Trump’s remarks have also sparked speculation that he wants to hinder special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential elections. Trump warned Mueller against looking into his family and associates’ finances as part of the Russia probe.
“I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia,” Trump told the Times.
Mueller was appointed by the Justice Department following Trump’s decision to dismiss FBI director James Comey, at the height of the bureau’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s collusion with Moscow.
People close to the matter believe it would have been easier to remove Mueller had Trump appointed a different attorney general, because Sessions’ replacement would take over from Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General and top Justice Department official looking over the Russia probe. Meaning congressmen would have the power to appoint their own counsel to lead an investigation.
However, while speaking to the press on Thursday, Sessions said that he was confident he could lead the Justice Department.
“I have the honor of serving as attorney general. It’s something that goes beyond any thought I would have ever had for myself,” Sessions said. “We love this job, we love this department and I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.”