Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired back at President Donald Trump Thursday afternoon, after Trump said he “never took control” of the Justice Department.
“While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action. However, no nation has a more talented, more dedicated group of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors than the United States,” Sessions said in a statement.
“I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the President’s agenda – one that protects the safety and security and rights of the American people, reduces violent crime, enforces our immigration laws, promotes economic growth, and advances religious liberty.”
“I am proud to serve with them and proud of the work we have done in successfully advancing the rule of law,” he added.
Trump has frequently criticized Sessions since taking office and often expresses frustration over the attorney general’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
The assertion from the attorney general that he has in fact taken control of the Justice Department comes after the President lashed out at Sessions in an interview that aired on Fox News Thursday morning.
After months of attacks, Sessions spoke up on Thursday in part because the President said on Fox News that he “never took control of the Justice Department” – a “macro” criticism that struck a different tone than Trump’s more granular gripes on Twitter about different individual cases like former FBI employees Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, according to a source familiar with the attorney general’s thinking.
“I put in an attorney general who never took control of the Justice Department. Jeff Sessions, never took control of the Justice Department. It’s sort of an incredible thing,” Trump said during the interview.
Trump said during the interview that even his “enemies” have told him that Sessions should have informed him he was planning to recuse himself so that he could have picked a different attorney general.
“What kind of a man is this?,” Trump said, recalling his reaction when he found out that Sessions decided to recuse.
Earlier this month, Trump escalated his criticism of the nation’s top law enforcement officer when he said in a tweet that Sessions is “scared stiff and Missing in Action.”
Trump’s criticism of the Justice Department has gone further than just targeting Sessions. “Everybody sees what’s going on in the Justice Department, I always put justice now with quotes,” Trump said during the Fox News interview.
Trump did not directly answer whether he plans to fire Sessions or deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Russia investigation, when asked during the Fox News interview.
The last time the attorney general fired back at the President was months ago.
Sessions pushed back after Trump chastised him in late February over an investigation into alleged surveillance abuses, calling his approach “disgraceful” in a tweet.
In response, Sessions defended his work and the department in a statement, saying, “As long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.”
Sessions met with the President at the White House Thursday, along with aides Jared Kushner and Mercedes Schlapp, to discuss prison reform. A White House official said Sessions was not fired, and there was no resignation.
Another source familiar with the meeting said nothing negative regarding Sessions’ future as attorney general came up during the gathering. This source said the meeting was a “win” for Sessions as Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley’s prison reform bill was “shelved” by the White House. The President is not on board with the bill, the source said.
A separate source who was in the room for the meeting says Trump and Sessions had a cordial meeting discussing prison reform. Neither of them raised their public exchange of criticism of one another.
CNN’s Jim Acosta, Jeremy Diamond and Phil Mattingly contributed to this report