President Trump criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation Wednesday and warned special counselor Robert Mueller over alleged conflicts of interest in a New York Times interview published Wednesday.
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In a remarkable denunciation of one of his earliest and most powerful supporters, Trump slammed Sessions' recusal as "very unfair to the president" and said he would have never appointed Sessions attorney general if he had known he would do so.
"How do you take a job and then recuse yourself?" Trump asked rhetorically. "If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, 'Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.'"
There was no immediate comment from Sessions, who announced March 2 that he would recuse himself from overseeing the FBI's investigation into alleged Russian meddling into the 2016 presidential election campaign. Sessions stepped aside after media reports that he had two conversations with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. and failed to disclose them to Congress during his confirmation process.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is overseeing Mueller's investigation. In his interview, Trump told the Times that he had interviewed Mueller to replace the fired James Comey as FBI Director before Rosenstein appointed him special counsel.
He was up here and he wanted the job,” Trump said of Mueller. "Talk about conflicts. But he was interviewing for the job. There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point."
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The president lobbed similar conflict of interest charges at Rosenstein and acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. He also accused Comey of briefing him on a dossier of unverified, incriminating information in an effort to gain leverage over the soon-to-be president.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the interview.
Trump also addressed a newly disclosed conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit earlier this month. Trump said the pair spoke for about 15 minutes at the dinner and said the conversation consisted of "pleasantries more than anything else" — though he said he and Putin also discussed adoption.
Russia had banned Americans from adopting Russian children in response to the Magnitsky Act, passed by Congress in 2012, which allowed the U.S. to impose sanctions on Russians deemed as human rights violators.
It's the same topic Trump's oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., says he discussed with a Russian lawyer at a meeting that has drawn intense scrutiny — a coincidence Trump described in the interview as "interesting."
According to the Times, the 50-minute interview with Trump took place Wednesday afternoon, following a lunch with Republican senators during which he told them not to go on their August recess until they presented him with a bill repealing ObamaCare.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.