'Time will tell': Trump sheds little light on future of Jeff Sessions
'You're probably right,' Anthony Scaramucci says when asked if Trump wants Sessions gone
U.S. President Donald Trump has spoken with advisers about firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, officials say, and launched a fresh Twitter tirade Tuesday against the man who was the first U.S. senator to endorse his candidacy.
But he provided no information later in the day at a news conference as to whether Sessions has a future in the administration, or if their relationship can be mended.
"Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are Emails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!" Trump said in an early morning tweet.
The president's anger over Sessions's decision to recuse himself from the government's investigation of Russian meddling in the U.S. election had burst into public view Monday when he referred to Sessions in a tweet as "beleaguered." Privately, Trump has speculated aloud to allies in recent days about the potential consequences of firing Sessions, according to three people who have recently spoken to the president. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
At a news conference alongside Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Trump repeated nearly verbatim statements he made to the New York Times a week ago, saying Sessions had been "unfair to the presidency."
"I am disappointed in the attorney general. He should not have recused himself almost immediately after he took office," said Trump.
Trump said he wanted Sessions to be "tougher on the leaks from intelligence agencies" but wouldn't answer directly to at least two questions about the attorney general's future.
"We will see what happens, time will tell. Time will tell."
Earlier, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Fox News's Fox & Friends that the president is "frustrated and disappointed" with Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia probe.
"That frustration certainly hasn't gone away. And I don't think it will," she said.
On conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt's radio show on Tuesday morning, the host asked newly installed White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, "It's clear the president wants him gone, isn't it?"
"I have an enormous amount of respect for the attorney general, but I do know the president pretty well," said Scaramucci in response. "And if there's this level of tension in the relationship, that that's public, you're probably right."
Paul Ryan, Republican speaker of the House, told reporters after being asked about the tweets that it's the prerogative of the president to decide who works for him and if the president has concerns he would talk to the individual.
Trump often talks about making staff changes without following through, so those who have spoken with the president cautioned that a change may not be imminent or happen at all.
"So why aren't the committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?" the president tweeted Monday. His tweet came just hours before his son-in-law, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, travelled to Capitol Hill to be interviewed about his meetings with Russians.
In another post to his Twitter account, Trump said: "Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign — quietly working to boost Clinton. So where is the investigation A.G."
Trump's intensifying criticism of Sessions has fuelled speculation that Sessions may resign even if Trump opts not to fire him. During an event at the White House, Trump ignored a shouted question about whether Sessions should step down. The attorney general said last week he intended to stay in his post.
If Trump were to fire Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would be elevated to the top post on an acting basis. That would leave the president with another attorney general of whom he has been sharply critical in both public and private for his handling of the Russia probe, according to four White House and outside advisers who, like others interviewed, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Replacement names floated
It could also raise the spectre of Trump asking Rosenstein — or whomever he appoints to fill the position — to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and potential collusion with Trump's campaign.
The name of one longtime Trump ally, Rudy Giuliani, was floated Monday as a possible replacement for Sessions, but a person who recently spoke to the former New York City mayor said that Giuliani had not been approached about the position. Giuliani told CNN on Monday that he did not want the post and would have recused himself had he been in Sessions's position.
The Washington Post reported that former Trump campaign foil Ted Cruz was being considered, but the Canadian-born Texas senator said in a statement the report was false.
Cruz said he was "deeply gratified we have a principled conservative like Jeff Sessions serving as attorney general."
The president first intensified his criticism of the Alabama senator in a New York Times interview, said that Sessions should never have taken the job as attorney general if he was going to recuse himself. Sessions made that decision after it was revealed that he had met with a top Russian diplomat last year.
Trump has seethed about Sessions's decision for months, viewing it as disloyal — arguably the most grievous offence in the president's mind — and resenting that the attorney general did not give the White House a proper heads-up before making the announcement that he would recuse himself. His fury has been fanned by several close confidants — including his son Donald Trump Jr., who is also ensnared in the Russia probe.
Trump and Sessions's conversations in recent weeks have been infrequent. Sessions had recently asked senior White House staff how he might patch up relations with the president but that effort did not go anywhere, according to a person briefed on the conversations.
Sessions and Trump used to be close, sharing both a friendship and an ideology. Sessions risked his reputation when he became the first U.S. senator to endorse the celebrity businessman and his early backing gave Trump legitimacy, especially among the hard-line anti-immigration forces that bolstered his candidacy.
After Trump's public rebuke last week, Sessions said, "I'm totally confident that we can continue to run this office in an effective way."