In an interview with the Hill on Tuesday, President Trump reiterated his criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Attacks on Sessions have become Trump’s “Free Bird,” and on Tuesday he improvised the old standard, declaring, “I don’t have an Attorney General. It’s very sad.”
The president’s well-documented, frequently declared disappointment in Sessions dates back to the attorney general’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation more than a year and half ago. “I’m so sad over Jeff Sessions because he came to me. He was the first senator that endorsed me. And he wanted to be Attorney General, and I didn’t see it,” Trump said.
That account jibes with the one Bob Woodward related in his new book, Fear. According to Woodward, Trump griped privately to former aide Rob Porter, “How in the world was I ever persuaded to pick him for my attorney general? He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama. What business does he have being attorney general?” (The book also says Trump called Sessions “mentally retarded, and “dumb Southerner.”)
In the Hill interview, Trump criticized Sessions performance at his Senate confirmation hearings. “He went through the nominating process and he did very poorly. I mean, he was mixed up and confused, and people that worked with him for, you know, a long time in the Senate were not nice to him,” Trump said, presumably referring to then-Sen. Al Franken. “But he was giving very confusing answers. Answers that should have been easily answered.”
During the hearings, Sessions told Franken he had not communicated with anyone in the Russian government and was “not aware” of anyone else on the Trump campaign doing so. The Washington Post later reported that Sessions met with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice during the campaign. The revelations ultimately prompted Sessions to voluntarily recuse himself from the probe.
“He gets in and probably because of the experience that he had going through the nominating when somebody asked him the first question about Hillary Clinton or something he said ‘I recuse myself, I recuse myself,'” Trump told the Hill. “And now it turned out he didn’t have to recuse himself. Actually, the FBI reported shortly thereafter any reason for him to recuse himself. And it’s very sad what happened.”
On Tuesday, Trump insisted that his dissatisfaction with Sessions was about more than just the recusal: “I’m not happy at the border, I’m not happy with numerous things, not just this.” Trump did not specify what about Sessions’ performance “at the border” he was unhappy with. The same day Trump gave the interview, Sessions’ Department of Justice moved to to deny asylum seekers a right to bond hearing, meaning even refugees who have met the government’s “credible fear” criteria would be forced remain in custody.
Asked if he planned to fire the attorney general, the president left the Hill’s reporters in suspense: “We’ll see what happens. A lot of people have asked me to do that. And I guess I study history, and I say I just want to leave things alone, but it was very unfair what he did,” Trump told them. Presumably, the history Trump referred to was his decision to fire FBI director James Comey, which served as the catalyst for the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
“And my worst enemies, I mean, people that, you know, are on the other side of me, in a lot of ways including politically, have said that was a very unfair thing he did,” Trump said. “We’ll see how it goes with Jeff. I’m very disappointed in Jeff. Very disappointed.”