The White House said Thursday that President Trump “still has confidence” in Jeff Sessions despite his harsh criticism a day earlier, as the attorney general also told reporters he would stay on the job for as long as "appropriate."
The president had lashed out at the nation's top law enforcement official in a New York Times interview, faulting him for recusing himself from the Russia probe and suggesting he wouldn't have hired him had he known in advance. As the president's comments reverberated across Washington, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was peppered with questions about the president's confidence level in the AG.
“As he said yesterday, he was disappointed in Attorney General Sessions’ decision to recuse himself, but clearly he has confidence in him or he would not be the attorney general,” Sanders said. She said Trump spoke “very clearly” about Sessions’ decision to recuse and that the attorney general “certainly did not tell him” of his recusal plans before taking the job.
When asked whether Trump would seek Sessions’ resignation, she said: “I think you know this president well enough to know that if he wanted somebody to take an action, he would make that quite clear.”
Sanders also was pressed as to whether Trump had confidence in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
“If the president didn’t have confidence, he wouldn’t be in that position,” Sanders said.
Hours earlier, Sessions also told reporters, in a press conference scheduled to discuss cybercrime, that he planned to stay at his post.
“We in this Department of Justice will continue every single day to work hard to serve the national interest, and we whole-heartedly join in priorities of President Trump,” Sessions said. “I have the honor of serving as attorney general. It’s something that goes beyond any thought that I’ve ever had for myself.”
Sessions added: “We love this job, and we love this department and I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.”
Sessions was pressed as to whether he could run the DOJ after the Times interview raised questions about the president's confidence level.
“We’re serving right now—the work we’re doing is the kind of work we intend to continue,” Sessions said.
Sessions, one of Trump’s early Republican supporters, recused himself from overseeing the FBI’s Russia probe on March 2, after media reports he had conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. that he did not disclose.
Last month, the Times reported that Sessions offered the president his resignation, but that Trump did not accept. When asked about the reports during Thursday’s briefing, Sanders said she was “not aware of that taking place.”
In his Wednesday interview with the same newspaper, Trump slammed Sessions and said his recusal was “very unfair to the president,” adding he would never have appointed him attorney general if he had known he would do so.
“How do you take a job and then recuse yourself?” Trump asked. “If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.”