President Donald Trump blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions and suggested in a “Fox & Friends” interview aired Thursday morning that he will intervene at some point in a long-running dispute between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and congressional Republicans.
Trump said Sessions (pictured above left) “never took control of the Justice Department” and thus allowed Democrats to subvert the rule of law.
Sessions fired back a few hours later, touting his “unprecedented success” at advancing Trump’s agenda at DOJ while staunchly defending his department.
“While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” he said in the statement. “I demand the highest standards, and where they are no met, I take action. However, no nation has a more talented, more dedicated group of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors in the United States.”
The broadside against Sessions is only the latest in a remarkable public venting that Trump has engaged in since the attorney general followed the advice of DOJ ethics officials and recused himself from overseeing the Russia collusion investigation because of his role in Trump’s presidential election campaign.
“I wanted to stay uninvolved. But when everybody sees what’s going on in the Justice Department — I always put justice now with quotes — it’s a very, very sad day,” said Trump. “Jeff Sessions recused himself, which he shouldn’t have done. Or he should have told me. Even my enemies said that, ‘Jeff Sessions should have told you that he was gonna recuse himself, and then you wouldn’t have put him in.’”
The recusal set off a chain of events that eventually led to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign — including possible collusion with Trump advisers.
Mueller’s team has brought a number of indictments against Russians and former Trump officials — but none of the charges so far tie Trump or his aides to the alleged collusion. Sessions already knows there was no conspiracy, Trump said.
“He was on the campaign. He knows there was no collusion,” he said.
“I put in an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions … It’s sort of an incredible thing.”
Republicans in the House of Representatives have knocked heads with Rosenstein over thousands of documents related to the genesis of the FBI counterintelligence probe that predated Mueller’s appointment and focused on the Trump campaign.
The DOJ has produced some documents, withheld others on grounds that they could jeopardize an ongoing investigation, and heavily redacted others. Congressional Republicans point to the unquestionable oversight authority given Congress by Article I of the Constitution and contend the DOJ is interfering with that authority.
Trump suggested at some point that he would order Rosenstein to give the House what it wants.
“At the right time, I think I’m going to have to do the documents,” he said. “I didn’t want to. But I think I’m gonna have to. There’s such corruption.”
Trump also said federal prosecutors should turn some of their attention to crimes he says 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton committed as secretary of state in her handling of classified information.
“And this Justice Department does nothing about it,” he said.
The same goes for Imran Awan, an information technology specialist working for House Democrats, Trump said. Awan avoided prison time after pleading guilty to making a false statement on a home equity line of credit application.
A House investigation concluded Awan was a security threat and had unauthorized access to classified information. But he never faced criminal charges related to that, and a federal judge earlier this week freed Awan without imposing any significant penalties for his actions.
“I mean, he was worse than anybody, in my opinion. He got nothing. He’s a Democrat. He got nothing,” the president said. “The reason he got nothing is the Dems are very strong in the Justice Department. I put in an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions … It’s sort of an incredible thing.”
Trump also unfavorably compared Sessions to Eric Holder, who served as President Barack Obama’s first attorney general. He contrasted DOJ’s inducement of his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to plead guilty to a pair of alleged campaign finance violations related to Trump’s campaign with the handling of a campaign finance violation by Obama’s campaign.
Trump noted that the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in 2013 fined Obama’s 2008 campaign $375,000 for 1,300 contributions totaling $1.8 million that the campaign failed to report on time.
“But he had a different attorney general, and they viewed it a lot differently,” Trump said. “You know, we have somebody that they seem to like to go after a lot of Republicans. But he settled his very easily.”