President Donald Trump said Wednesday he wished he picked someone other than Jeff Sessions as his attorney general because Sessions quickly removed himself from oversight of the investigation of links between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia because of his own contacts with Moscow’s ambassador to Washington.
Trump has often railed against Sessions’ recusal from the case, voicing frustration that it has left him without someone he feels should be loyal to him at the country’s top law enforcement agency to protect him from the year-long probe headed by special counsel Robert Mueller.
But Trump vented his ire anew in a Twitter remark, citing a television interview comment from Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy that Sessions, a former Alabama senator and early Trump political supporter, had not told Trump before he was named to the country’s top legal position that he would remove himself from control of the Russia investigation.
Gowdy said he too would have been “frustrated” in such a situation if not told ahead of time that his attorney general would not handle “the most important case in the office.” He told CBS news “there are lots of really good lawyers in the country. He could have picked somebody else!”
The problem with Sessions
Trump’s anger at Sessions — in the past he’s called him “beleaguered” — has often prompted speculation in Washington that the U.S. leader would fire him, or his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe after Sessions recused himself from the oversight role.
But key Republican lawmakers have warned Trump not to dismiss Sessions, fearing it could lead to Trump’s impeachment, and that the U.S. leader could not be assured that a new appointment as attorney general could win confirmation in the politically fractious Senate, where Republicans hold only a 51-49 majority.
The New York Times reported late Tuesday that days after Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe oversight in March 2017, Trump sought, to no avail, to get the attorney general to change his mind. The newspaper said Mueller is looking at Trump’s conversation with Sessions as part of his investigation into whether Trump has obstructed justice in trying to thwart the probe.
Sessions withdrew from the Russia case oversight because of long-standing Justice Department rules prohibiting lawyers from involvement in investigations when they have a conflict of interest, such as Sessions’ political support for Trump and his 2016 meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Mueller’s Russia probe
Trump continues to be consumed by the Mueller investigation, tweeting often that it is a “witch hunt,” that there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia and that he did not obstruct justice by firing Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey last May when he was heading the agency’s Russia investigation. Days later, Rosenstein, over Trump’s objections, named Mueller, another former FBI director, to take over the Russia investigation.
Tuesday night, Trump repeated his claim that the FBI planted a spy in his 2016 campaign in an effort to undermine his candidacy, asking a political rally in Tennessee, “How do you like the fact they had people infiltrating our campaign?”
An FBI informant, Stefan Halper, an American professor at Britain’s University of Cambridge, shared information with the FBI about conversations he had with three Trump associates during the campaign as the criminal investigative agency looked into Russian intrusion in the U.S. presidential race, but there is no indication that he was placed inside the campaign.
Trump is calling the FBI’s use of Halper “Spygate.” He tweeted about this last weekend.
In a Fox News interview, Gowdy said the FBI’s use of Halper was not inappropriate, as Trump claims.
After reviewing FBI documents about the case last week, Gowdy said, “I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got, and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump.”
Despite Gowdy’s conclusion, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Wednesday that “certainly there’s cause for concern” whether the FBI “acted appropriately” and that investigation of it ought to continue.
Another long-time Trump defender, Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, said Trump’s repeated claims that the FBI placed an undercover spy in his campaign “seem to be baseless.”
“There is no evidence for that whatsoever,” Napolitano said.