President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he would not have picked Jeff Sessions as his Attorney General had he known he would recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
In a lengthy New York Times interview, Trump was brutally frank about his assessment of Sessions’s March decision to recuse himself. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president,” Trump told the Times.
Sessions defended his decision at the time, saying that he and his department’s ethics attorneys’ reading of DOJ’s recusal rules demanded his recusal based on the fact he served as a member of the Trump campaign. He has repeatedly justified his decision on these lines, including in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last month. The decision eventually landed responsibility for the Russia probe with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who in turn used that authority to appoint Robert Mueller as special counsel.
Trump further vented his frustration with Sessions over the matter. “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” he told the Times.
Sessions had been one of the president’s earliest backers, the very first United States Senator to endorse him. A stalwart of nationalist-populist thought in the pre-Trump Republican Party, Sessions’s appointment as the highest law enforcement official in the land was a seen as a fufillment of Trump’s campaign promises on law and order.
During the 50-minute Times interview, the president’s criticisms of Sessions did not go beyond his handling of the Russia recusal and his inaccurate answers as to meetings with Russian Ambassodor Sergei Kislyak at his Senate confirmation hearings. His opinion on Sessions’s handling of the multitude of other Justice Department initiatives was not touched upon.