Wall Street Journal
By Peter Nicholas and Byron Tau
July 26, 2017
Attorney General Jeff Sessions was about 45 minutes into a routine meeting Wednesday morning at the White House with fellow cabinet members when President Donald Trump, from another part of the building, took to Twitter .
“Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, ” whom the president accused of being aligned with former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, his message read. “Drain the Swamp.”
It marked the third consecutive day that Mr. Trump used Twitter to attack the leadership of the Justice Department. Privately, friends and White House aides have urged Mr. Trump to back off, but he has shown no sign of letting up, and he and Mr. Sessions haven’t yet met to see if they can resolve differences.
“We’ve seen some of the tweets increase and all I can tell anyone is I don’t understand it. I’m not part of it and I’m a little befuddled by it,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R., N.Y.), the first member of Congress to endorse Mr. Trump in the 2016 campaign.
White House aides describe an impasse: Mr. Trump isn’t about to fire his attorney general, but he also wouldn’t be sorry if Mr. Sessions were to quit. In the past week, Mr. Sessions’ chief of staff, Jody Hunt, told White House chief of Staff Reince Priebus that the attorney general wasn’t going to resign, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
Mr. Sessions’ departure could upend the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and whether the Trump campaign colluded in that. Both Mr. Trump and Russia have denied doing so.
According to a January report from the U.S. intelligence agencies, Russia’s interference was directed from the highest levels of its government. Its tactics included hacking state-election systems; infiltrating and leaking information from party committees and political strategists; and disseminating through social media and other outlets negative stories about Mrs. Clinton and positive ones about Mr. Trump, the report said.
Driving Mr. Trump is a conviction that Mr. Sessions’ decision last year to recuse himself from the Russia probe is now fueling the investigations, White House aides and friends of the president said.
“If he turns on the TV and sees the Russia investigation story he thinks of Sessions’ recusal. He draws a straight line from the recusal to the Russia-all-the-time” focus, a White House official said.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in a press briefing Wednesday, suggested Mr. Trump hadn’t given up on Mr. Sessions.
“He wants him to lead the Justice Department,” she said. “He wants to do that strongly. He wants him to focus on things like immigration, leaks, and a number of other issues, and I think that is what his focus is at this point.”
Mr. Sessions has moved in his five months on the job to lay the groundwork for a further crackdown on illegal immigration, by stepping up enforcement and ordering prosecutors to bring more cases against repeat unlawful border crossers. He has also moved to reverse a series of Obama administration policies, including reinstating the ability last week for local police to seize cash and guns from suspected wrongdoers and keep much of the proceeds, even if they can’t do so under state law.
One White House official said Wednesday that the open criticism of Mr. Sessions is eroding morale inside the administration and making it tougher to recruit new staff.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, unleashed a flurry of criticism of Mr. Trump’s behavior in remarks to reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday, saying that publicly berating his own attorney general was “unseemly,” “inappropriate” and “belittling and humiliating.”
Mr. Graham said he spoke to Mr. Sessions on Wednesday. “He’s wants to do a good job and he’s going to continue to do a good job,” said Mr. Graham about the attorney general.
Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) and a member of Senate leadership said Mr. Trump “ought to sit down and talk with the attorney general man-to-man and work it out.”
The GOP-led Senate would need to approve of any permanent replacement for Mr. Sessions, something that even Republicans said would be difficult if Mr. Trump fired him or drove him out.
“I don’t know if the Senate can confirm a new candidate right now. It’ll be very divisive. We don’t need it right now. And I know Jeff Sessions to be a good, decent man who is doing a good job,” said Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican.
Mr. Trump could attempt to make a recess appointment during a break in the Senate’s schedule, such as the one in mid-August. But in recent years, the Senate has been holding what are called “pro forma” sessions rather than adjourning in part to prevent the president from making such appointments.
In 2012, former President Barack Obama tried to make a recess appointment in between Senate pro forma sessions to overcome Republican resistance to his nominees. The Supreme Court ruled against him.
—Aruna Viswanatha contributed to this article.
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