Democrats who questioned the political views, honesty, and integrity of Jeff Sessions when they considered his nomination as attorney general are rushing to his defense — sort of — now that he is in President Donald Trump’s doghouse.
All but one Democrat in the Senate voted against their colleague from Alabama, and several called for him to resign amid allegations that he misled them over meetings with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign.
But some Democrats now view Sessions as the key to keep Robert Mueller as special counsel in the probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible connections to the Trump campaign.
“And now, because I think he’s very afraid of where the Russian investigation is heading that he’s going after Jeff Sessions, who had to, by the way, recuse himself,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday. “It wasn’t as though Sessions had a choice in the matter.”
Sessions has endured several days’ worth of abuse on Twitter at the hands of Trump, who raised eyebrows last week with a harsh assessment of his hand-picked attorney general in a New York Times interview. Trump has made clear that he regrets naming an attorney general who would have to step away from overseeing the investigation.
“I think it’s outrageous that the president is now going after the senator who was the first out of the chute to endorse him and who the president called the smartest person in Washington, D.C.,” Hirono said.
On Wednesday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said Trump should not fire Sessions for following the law.
“Now, I vehemently disagree with Jeff Sessions on a lot of things — immigration and voting rights and some of his positions,” she told CNN’s Don Lemon. “But the truth is, he simply recused himself from matters dealing with Russia … and he has simply allowed a fair process to go forward by having his deputy, pretty normal, oversee a special counsel who’s gonna look into all of what went on in the last year with Russia trying to influence our election.”
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with the Democrats and voted against Sessions, accused Trump Tuesday on CNN’s “New Day” of demanding loyalty but not returning it.
“And you know, as you mentioned in your opening, Jeff Sessions was Donald Trump’s principal first supporter in the Senate and one of the loudest voices, campaigned with him,” he said. “And he mentioned the word ‘loyalty’ yesterday. In my world, loyalty is a two-way street.”
Also on CNN, former Florida Sen. Bob Graham said Trump’s treatment of Sessions would hurt his efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“If the president would treat a friend like Jeff the way he is, how can I depend on him to be my ally if I cast this very unpopular vote?” he said.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) acknowledged under questioning by CNN anchor Erin Burnett that he is in a strange position to be criticizing Trump for mistreating Sessions.
“Listen, I make no bones about it,” he said Tuesday. “I voted against Jeff Sessions as the attorney general of the United States. But this is not that. This is about rule of law, not the rule of Trump.”
Referring to a Washington Post article detailing intercepted communications between Kislyak and his superiors about Sessions, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) tweeted last week that “Lyin’ Jeff Sessions should, at a minimum, be indicted for the felony of perjury. He also needs to resign.”
Still, Lieu told CNN anchors John Berman and Poppy Harlow on Wednesday that Trump might be committing obstruction of justice if he fires Sessions.
“I am deeply conflicted. In a normal world, I would have wanted Jeff Sessions to have resigned months ago,” he said. “But in this bizarre Trump world, Jeff Sessions is one of the people keeping special counsel Mueller from being fired. And I think it’s both unseemly and unpresidential for Donald Trump to publicly criticize his own attorney general.”
Michael Johns, president and executive director of Tea Party Community, told LifeZette that the response by Democrats exposes their hypocrisy.
“It’s really demonstrative of a Democratic Party whose commitment is not to the rule of law or ethics and government procedures but anti-Trumpism at all costs,” he said.
Johns called Sessions a “hero of American conservatism” but added that Trump is right to be upset that he picked an attorney general who had a conflict of interest on a key issue. He said Trump should find a different role for Sessions if the relationship is not irreparably poisoned.
“Why not bring him into a senior policy role in the White House,” he said, “and then pick a new attorney general who could shut down a “politically motivated investigation that ultimately shouldn’t exist?”