WASHINGTON — President Trump on Monday attacked Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, over the Justice Department’s decision to bring criminal charges against two Republican congressmen ahead of the midterm elections, linking the department’s actions with his party’s political fate.
In a pair of tweets sent midafternoon, Mr. Trump suggested that the Justice Department should not have brought charges against two “very popular” Republican lawmakers running for re-election so close to November because it could jeopardize the party’s control of the House.
“Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. “Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff.”
In another tweet, he suggested that Mr. Sessions, a former senator who was one of Mr. Trump’s only vocal defenders early in his campaign, had fallen into favor with Democrats after the charges were delivered.
The president was most likely referring to two recent cases: Last month, Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he and his wife, Margaret, used more than $250,000 in campaign funds to pay for personal expenses. Chris Collins, Republican of New York Republican and ardent supporter of Mr. Trump’s, was indicted on charges of insider trading.
Both lawmakers have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Mr. Trump has frequently berated Mr. Sessions and publicly questioned his judgment since the attorney general’s decision in March 2017 to recuse himself from the special counsel’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia.
Until Monday, Mr. Trump had not so overtly tied the Justice Department’s responsibility for pursuing charges against alleged criminals with Republicans’ election prospects.
Last week, it even appeared that Mr. Trump would stop publicly toying with the idea of removing Mr. Sessions until after the midterm elections.
“I just would love to have him do a great job,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Bloomberg News in the Oval Office last week. “I do question what Jeff is doing.”
By calling it the “Jeff Sessions Justice Department,” Mr. Trump put even more distance between himself and the country’s top law enforcement organization, which is investigating members of his inner circle and his business dealings.
Those inquiries are being conducted by the United States attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York and by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel appointed to investigate Russian election interference and any ties to the Trump campaign.
Mr. Trump’s tweets — sent from the White House on a searingly hot day that kept him from departing for his nearby Virginia golf course — criticized indictments that fall well within the Justice Department’s window for bringing charges during an election cycle.
His comments triggered a swift rebuke from former prosecutors and members of his own party.
“The United States is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice — one for the majority and one for the minority party,” Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “These two men have been charged with crimes because of evidence, not because of who the president was when the investigations began.”
The investigations into Mr. Trump’s inner circle have resulted in a string of guilty pleas and convictions that include two members of the Trump campaign and Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen. Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, and David Pecker, the publisher of the National Enquirer and Mr. Trump’s longtime friend, have also cooperated to some degree with federal investigators.
Mr. Trump has used Twitter to cast the investigations into his conduct and that of his associates as witch hunts propagated by career government employees.
“The president is trying to delegitimize the criminal justice system in this country because people close to him are at risk,” said Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor.
The Justice Department declined to comment. After Mr. Trump attacked the department, its methods and the outcome of its cases last month, in the wake of prosecutors’ securing a guilty plea from Mr. Cohen and a guilty verdict for the president’s former campaign manager, Mr. Sessions issued a rare rebuke.
“While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” Mr. Sessions said in his statement. “No nation has a more talented, more dedicated group of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors than the United States.”
Only one of the two indicted congressmen will drop out from his bid for re-election this fall. Mr. Hunter cannot take his name off the ballot in California, and maintains a strong chance of re-election against a first-time Democratic opponent. In the 47-page indictment, Mr. Hunter and his wife are accused of hiding personal expenses as gifts for “wounded warriors” and using the money to pay for lavish expenditures, including vacations and a plane ticket for a pet rabbit.
Mr. Collins, who pleaded not guilty in early August, announced days later that he would suspend his campaign for re-election in New York. The indictment immediately weakened the chances of Mr. Collins’s seat remaining Republican, although the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan political handicapper, maintains that the seat is a “likely” Republican victory.
Federal prosecutors say Mr. Collins used his seat on the board of an Australian-based drug company to privately tip off his son and other investors — before the information was made public — that the company’s only product had failed a do-or-die scientific trial. Because his son and others dumped their stocks before the public announcement, they avoided losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Mr. Collins received the messaged that tipped him off while he was attending the 2017 congressional picnic at the White House, according to the scene described in court papers.
It was clear that elections were on the president’s mind on Monday. After tweeting about Mr. Sessions, Mr. Trump attacked John Kerry, the former senator and Democratic presidential candidate, for suggesting that he might run again for president in 2020.
“I should only be so lucky – although the field that is currently assembling looks really good – FOR ME!” Mr. Trump wrote.
Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.