President Trump issued a fresh attack on his attorney general Saturday, suggesting in a tweet that Jeff Sessions is allowing the Russia investigation to proceed while permitting “real corruption” to go “untouched.”
Mr. Trump also retweeted a quote from
Sen. Lindsey Graham
(R., S.C.), who told Fox News that the relationship between the two men “is not working” and that “what’s going on is unsustainable.”
“Every president deserves an attorney general he has confidence in,” Mr. Graham told the network, a quote that Mr. Trump highlighted.
The tweets put renewed pressure on Mr. Sessions, who is in the delicate position of both fending off attacks from Mr. Trump while carrying out the president’s tough-on-crime policies.
On Thursday, Fox News aired an interview in which Mr. Trump said that the attorney general “never took control of the Justice Department.”
“What kind of man is this?” Mr. Trump said.
Soon afterward, Mr. Sessions issued a rare public statement defending his leadership of the Justice Department. “While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” he said.
Later that same day, the two men met for a prescheduled meeting in the Oval Office with other officials. The dispute didn’t come up, people familiar with the meeting said.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
Fueling Mr. Trump’s anger is his view that Mr. Sessions erred in recusing himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, White House aides have said.
Mr. Trump has privately told aides he admires attorneys general from past administrations who protected White House interests, singling out President
John F. Kennedy’s
brother, Robert Kennedy, as a model.
Mr. Trump has said that he never would have nominated Mr. Sessions for the job had he known the attorney general would relinquish control of the Russia probe. Mr. Sessions took that step last year, citing his involvement in Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.
Another frustration for Mr. Trump is what he contends is the Justice Department’s refusal to investigate Democrats, particularly his 2016 opponent,
Mr. Trump’s attorney,
said in a recent interview, “What, do you just investigate Republicans?”
It is unclear whether Mr. Trump’s sustained attacks will push Mr. Sessions to the breaking point. He has absorbed the president’s public criticism for more than a year, giving no sign that he is ready to quit.
A former Alabama senator, Mr. Sessions has long enjoyed the backing of former Republican senate colleagues who have warned the president to leave the attorney general in place.
But that support appears to be eroding. Senate Judiciary Chairman
(R., Iowa.), who once said he wouldn’t hold confirmation hearings for a new attorney general, told Bloomberg News that he would have time for a hearing now.
Last year, Mr. Graham said the president would unleash “holy hell” if he fired Mr. Sessions. Now, Mr. Graham says while Mr. Sessions shouldn’t be replaced before the midterms, he would “likely” be replaced after the elections.
Dumping Mr. Sessions carries risks. A confirmation hearing would push to the forefront the issue of the attorney general’s independence. Some lawmakers would likely seek assurances that the new attorney general would stand up to Mr. Trump and not shut down the Russia investigation at his behest.
Democrats need to pick up two seats to gain control of the Senate. If they succeed, they would be well positioned to thwart an attempt by the president to install a more pliant attorney general.
Write to Peter Nicholas at email@example.com