Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired back Thursday at President Trump for saying he “never took control of the Justice Department,” putting out a sharp statement vowing the agency won’t be “improperly influenced” by politics.
Trump had made the comments in a wide-ranging interview with “Fox & Friends.” The president, on the heels of the first guilty verdict from a trial connected to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe, continued to fume over Sessions' recusal from the Russia investigation.
"Jeff Sessions never took control of the Justice Department, and it's a sort of an incredible thing," Trump claimed.
But Sessions countered in a written statement:
“I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the President’s agenda—one that protects the safety and security rights of the American people, reduces violent crime, enforces our immigration laws, promotes economic growth, and advances religious liberty.”
He went on to say, “While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”
'While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.'
The statement was released shortly before he joined Trump at the White House for a meeting on prison reform legislation. “We're pleased the President agreed that we shouldn't support criminal justice reform that would reduce sentences, put drug traffickers back on our streets, and undermine our law enforcement officers who are working night and day to reduce violent crime and drug trafficking in the middle of an opioid crisis,” Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said after the meeting.
The president for months has railed against Sessions over his recusal, but the attorney general has hung on, occasionally pushing back publicly. The president discussed Sessions when asked in the Fox News interview if he would fire his AG and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after the midterms.
He didn’t rule it out, but said he wanted to stay “uninvolved.”
“But when everybody sees what’s going on in the Justice Department—I always put ‘justice’ now with quotes—it’s a very, very sad day. Jeff Sessions recused himself, which he shouldn’t have done. Or he should have told me,” Trump told Ainsley Earhardt. “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. He took the job and then he said I’m going to recuse myself. I said, ‘what kind of a man is this?’”
Trump also said that the “only reason” he appointed Sessions as attorney general was because he worked on his 2016 campaign.
“Because I felt loyalty, he was an original supporter. He was on the campaign. He knows there was no collusion,” Trump explained. “And what’s come out of Manafort? No collusion. What’s come out of Michael Cohen? No collusion.”
Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was convicted on eight financial crime counts earlier this week, arising out of the Mueller probe. His ex-attorney Cohen also struck a plea deal in a separate case.
Sessions recused himself in 2017, due to his involvement with the Trump campaign, per Justice Department regulations.
Rosenstein, his deputy, was then named to oversee the investigation. He appointed Mueller as special counsel.
Earlier this summer, Trump blamed Sessions for the ongoing “Russian Witch Hunt Hoax,” again saying he “would have picked someone else” as the nation’s chief law officer if he knew of Sessions’ decision to recuse himself, concluding: “And I wish I did!”
But despite Trump’s consistent criticisms and Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation, the attorney general has led the charge on a number of items on the president’s agenda.
Just this week, Sessions announced developments in combating the opioid crisis, warning drug companies, foreign nationals and drug traffickers that the Justice Department “will use civil and criminal penalties alike”.
“We will find you, put you in jail, or make you pay,” Sessions said in a speech Wednesday in Cleveland, Ohio.
Sessions’ Justice Department also has focused on immigration enforcement, with an announcement just this week that the agency denaturalized a war criminal who had fraudulently obtained refugee status and U.S. citizenship.
The Justice Department has focused as well on campus free speech, violent crime and religious freedom.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Thursday that despite Sessions’ accomplishments, he believes it “very likely” Trump will appoint a new attorney general.
“The president is entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job and I think there will become a time sooner rather than later where it will be time to have a new face, and fresh voice, at the Department of Justice,” Graham said. “Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president and all I can say is that I have a lot of respect for the attorney general, but that’s an important office in the country and after the election, I think there will be some serious discussions about a new attorney general.”
Graham added, though, that “replacing [Sessions], to me, before the election would be a non-starter.”
Fox News' Jason Donner and Jake Gibson contributed to this report.