The one-sided feud between President Donald Trump and his attorney general persisted Wednesday, even as a battered Jeff Sessions trudged ahead with his Justice Department duties.
Less than an hour after Sessions was deposited at the White House by a black SUV for routine meetings in the West Wing, Trump proclaimed from another corner of the same building that his displeasure in his attorney general hasn’t waned.
“Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got big dollars ($700,000) for his wife’s political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives,” he tweeted. “Drain the Swamp!”
The message, which stretched facts, was the latest chapter in a humiliating ordeal for the nation’s top law enforcement official, who has refused to resign even amid the increasingly hostile barbs being issued by his boss. Over the past two days, Trump has deemed his attorney general “beleaguered” and “very weak.” His anger has stemmed from Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from an FBI investigation into Russian election meddling.
Even as Sessions was attending a so-called “principals small group meeting” in the West Wing on Wednesday, Trump – who remained in his private residence – declined to confront his attorney general face-to-face. Some of Trump’s aides have encouraged the President to speak with Sessions directly, rather than angrily lambast him over Twitter, but that advice appeared to go unheeded Wednesday morning.
Speaking on CNN, Trump’s newly installed White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci defended the President’s tactics for communicating his ire, saying Sessions was likely among Trump’s Twitter followers and thus a direct recipient of his messages.
“Jeff Sessions is probably one of the 113 million people” who follow Trump online, he said on CNN’s “New Day.”
Sessions, however, doesn’t maintain an active Twitter account, and his campaign account – @JeffSessions – hasn’t posted since 2014. That account doesn’t follow Trump.
The disconnect between the two men has caused deep consternation among some members of Congress, who question Trump’s public needling of Sessions while stopping short of firing him.
“I would fire somebody that I did not believe could serve me well rather than trying to humiliate him in public, which is a sign of weakness,” said Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, on Wednesday. “I would just go ahead and say, ‘I appreciate your service, you need to be fired.’ “
Despite Trump’s attacks, Sessions has no plans to resign, sources have told CNN. Instead, he’s forging ahead with his duties as attorney general, including routine meetings with administration officials at the White House.
His vehicles were spotted around 9 a.m. ET at the West Wing, where he regularly meets with fellow officials. He was not expected to meet with Trump. He departed about 90 minutes later, striding stone-faced wearing a dark checked suit to his car, toting a briefing binder in his right hand.
The President, meanwhile, wasn’t officially scheduled to begin his workday until 10:30 a.m. ET, and wasn’t present in the West Wing while Sessions was there.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s press secretary, said later Wednesday that Sessions did not meet with the President while he was at the White House.
“The President’s been very clear about where he is,” Sanders said. “He is obviously disappointed.”
“You can be disappointed in someone but still want them to continue to do their job,” she added.
Trump’s message on Twitter revived a convoluted and largely debunked criticism of Sessions and McCabe, who has served in the acting FBI position since Trump abruptly fired Comey in May. Trump interviewed McCabe for the permanent role, but eventually chose Christopher Wray, whose nomination is pending in the Senate.
McCabe’s wife, who ran for a position in the Virginia legislature in 2015, received a large donation from a political action committee affiliated with Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat with close ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton. But there’s no evidence that she received donations from Clinton herself. The donation also predated the point at which McCabe assumed oversight responsibilities for the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. McCabe consulted ethics officers at the FBI before his wife’s run.
Aside from concerned lawmakers and members of his staff, the prolonged standoff between Trump and Sessions, a former US senator who endorsed Trump early in his campaign, has also drawn criticism from some conservative media outlets, who still regard Sessions as an essential right-wing voice within the administration.
Sessions himself sought to highlight those credentials Tuesday, announcing that “sanctuary cities” would be ineligible for key law enforcement grants. And he soon plans to announce a stepped-up effort to go after leakers, a project that Trump himself has pressed.
But those efforts may not be sufficient to overcome Trump’s anger, which has been simmering for months but which he first revealed publicly in a New York Times interview last week.
Publicly, Trump’s aides say Sessions is merely experiencing a regular facet of Trump’s personality – one that values loyalty and isn’t for the weak of heart.
“I’m telling my fellow teammates here in the West Wing and my fellow friends that happen to be Cabinet secretaries that this is his style and nature,” Scaramucci said on CNN. “You’ve got to have a very tough skin to work for and deal with the President.”
Asked about Sessions’ uncertain fate during a news conference on Tuesday, Trump offered only caprice.
“We will see what happens,” he said in the Rose Garden. “Time will tell. Time will tell.”
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.