U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday pushed back against President Trump’s remarks to Fox News that he is not in control of the U.S. Justice Department and should have recused from overseeing the special counsel’s Russia investigation.
Trump castigated his attorney general—a repeated thing these days—in the Fox interview, saying: “I put in an attorney general who never took control of the Justice Department. Jeff Sessions, never took control of the Justice Department. It’s sort of an incredible thing.” He added: “What kind of man is this?”
Sessions has withered criticism over the months. Trump has derided Sessions at times as “weak” and “beleaguered.” The attacks from Trump escalated in recent weeks, when the president called his attorney general “scared stiff” and “missing in action.” Sessions, for his part, has often praised the president in public remarks. The New York Times has reported that Sessions, privately, knows he has allies on Capitol Hill.
A spokesperson for Sessions tweeted a statement from the attorney general Thursday afternoon. The statement said in full:
“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 and rights of the American people, reduces violent crime, enforces our immigration laws, promotes economic growth, and advances religious liberty.”
“While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action. However, no nation has a more talented, more dedicated group of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors.”
Sessions recused in March 2017 from the Russia investigation, led by Robert Mueller III, the special counsel. Sessions noted that, at his confirmation hearing for attorney general, he vowed to step aside if “a specific matter arose where I believed my impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” Trump has said he would not have chosen Sessions as his attorney general had he known he would have recused from the Russia inquiry.
The latest Trump-Sessions tempest comes as prominent figures close to Trump confront criminal charges arising from Mueller’s probe.
Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court this week to participating in a hush-money scheme in which he said he acted at the direction of Trump. Trump’s former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was found guilty Tuesday in Virginia court on bank and tax fraud charges in a special counsel prosecution.