President Donald Trump said in an interview published Wednesday that he would not have chosen Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general had he known Sessions would recuse himself over matters related to the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump’s remarks, in a 50-minute interview with The New York Times, represent an extraordinary rebuke from the President toward the nation’s top law enforcement official who happens to be one of his earliest political allies.
“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the President,” Trump said, referring to 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.”
Before Trump had a lock on the Republican nomination last year, Sessions became the first sitting senator to back the real estate mogul’s presidential bid.
But several months into the job, Trump’s warm feelings for Sessions have clearly cooled. In the interview, Trump scolded Sessions for telling the Senate judiciary committee that he had not met with any Russians during the campaign. It was later revealed he had met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US, at least two times.
Sessions later amended his testimony.
“Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers,” the President said. “He gave some answers that were simple questions and should have been simple answers, but they weren’t.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment to CNN about the President’s remarks regarding Sessions. But a source familiar with his thinking said Sessions has no intention of stepping down as attorney general in the wake of Trump’s comments.
Trump also asserted that former FBI Director James Comey had presented him with a dossier containing a number of allegations about himself and Russia prior to his inauguration as a way to have leverage over him.
“In my opinion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there,” Trump said.
The dossier included a wide range of allegations, including salacious and unproven ones about Trump. CNN reported in February that investigators had corroborated some points in the dossier, but not the salacious details. In the interview, Trump said he had immediately written it off as false.
“When he brought it to me, I said this is really made-up junk,” Trump said. “I didn’t think about any of it. I just thought about man, this is such a phony deal.”
Trump said he had done the country a “great service” by firing Comey.
Investigating family’s finances ‘a violation’
Trump had harsh words for the Justice Department investigation into potential coordination between his associates and Russia to influence the 2016 election, suggesting the probe was unfair due to conflicts of interest.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein selected former FBI Director Robert Mueller to take over the investigation as special counsel after Trump fired Comey.
Trump suggested it would be wrong for Mueller to investigate his family’s finances. The Times reported that when asked if that would be a red line, Trump responded in the affirmative, but would not say what action, if any, he would take.
“I think that’s a violation,” Trump said. “Look, this is about Russia.”
A source told CNN last week that Mueller’s team would be looking into a meeting Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort had with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 at Trump Tower. CNN also reported that the FBI, as part of its probe into Russian attempts to influence the election, scrutinized some of Trump Jr.’s business dealings and meetings.
As the Times reported on the meeting, Trump Jr. released emails confirming he had taken the meeting to gain potentially damaging information on Hillary Clinton, and was told the information came as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign. Trump Jr. said the meeting turned out to be largely an attempt by the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, to talk about adoption policy.
In response to the US’ Magnitsky Act putting sanctions on a raft of Russian persons, Russian President Vladimir Putin put an end to US adoptions of Russian children, effectively tying the adoption program to the US’ sanctions law.
Trump told the Times, as he and his legal team have repeatedly said, that he had no knowledge of the meeting until the recent reports.
“I didn’t know anything about the meeting,” Trump said.
Trump said in the interview that adoption came up during a second discussion he had with Putin at the G20, which had gone undisclosed until Tuesday.
“It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes,” Trump said. “Actually, it was very interesting, we talked about adoption.” Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, corroborated Trump’s account to reporters on Thursday, but refused to provide further details.
Although Trump said it was not a lengthy talk, a source told CNN on Tuesday that the discussion had gone on for nearly an hour.
The Washington Post reported in June that Mueller was also investigating if Trump had obstructed justice. Trump said he did not see why that would be the case.
“I don’t think we’re under investigation,” Trump said. “I’m not under investigation. For what? I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Trump disputed Comey’s testimony before the Senate intelligence committee that he had pressed the former FBI director to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“I don’t remember even talking to him about any of this stuff,” Trump said. “His testimony is loaded up with lies.”
Comey documented several private conversations he had with Trump in contemporaneous memos, and said before the Senate panel that he took Trump’s comments as attempts to influence him.