Former Trump-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday defended his 2017 decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, after President Donald Trump attacked Sessions for not “being a man” and quashing the probe.
Sessions said in a statement that he recused himself because he was abiding by the law.
“To not recuse myself from that investigation, of which I was a target as a senior campaign official and a witness, would have been breaking the law. I do not and will not break the law,” Sessions. “I did the right thing for the country and for President Trump. If I, as a target of the investigation, had broken the law by not recusing myself, it would have been a catastrophe for the rule of law and for the President.”
Sessions became a source of Trump’s public frustration when in early 2017 the then-attorney general recused himself from the Russia investigation. His recusal came after it was publicly revealed that he didn’t disclose at his Senate confirmation hearing two pre-election meetings with Russia’s then-ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak.
Trump told “Fox and Friends” Friday morning that he felt obligated to appoint Sessions to the job, calling him “very weak and very sad.”
The President was asked during a Friday morning call to “Fox & Friends” if there would have been a Russia probe had Bill Barr, the current attorney general, been attorney general during the start of the Trump administration.
“No, there wouldn’t be. He would have stopped it immediately. … Jeff Sessions was a disaster. I made him – I didn’t want to make him attorney general but he was the first senator to endorse me so I felt a little bit of an obligation,” Trump said.
Trump added that Sessions “came to see me four times, just begging me to be attorney general. He wasn’t, you know, to me, equipped to be attorney general. But he wanted and wanted and wanted it.”
Sessions said in his statement that he continues to support Trump and will vote for him in the fall, but he said he “never begged for the job of Attorney General, not 4 times, not 1 time, not ever.”
On “Fox and Friends,” Trump said of Sessions, “He goes in – he was so bad in his nomination proceedings. I should have gotten rid of him there,” adding that he “knew less about Russia than I did.”
“But they got him standing on a line with Kislyak … everyone in Washington knew Kislyak,” he remarked.
“Instead of being a man and saying ‘this is a hoax,’ he recused himself,” the President added, even though such an action by Sessions could have amounted to obstruction of justice. During the Russia investigation, Trump tried to get Sessions to curtail the probe, which special counsel Robert Mueller later said checked all the boxes for obstruction.
While past US presidents have largely left the Justice Department and, within it, the FBI, to be independent, Trump has said he has seen himself as the country’s “chief law enforcement officer” – a title typically used to refer to the attorney general.
Barr’s Justice Department has acted more as an arm of Trump’s defense than an independent arbiter of justice.
The current attorney general has disagreed with his own agency’s watchdog report saying that Russia probe was justified. He has defended the removal of the intelligence community inspector general who notified Congress of the existence of a whistleblower complaint about Trump pressuring the Ukrainian President for political help. And most recently, he said the Justice Department had a “duty” to move to dismiss charges against Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for lying to the FBI.
The request to drop the case drew criticism from former top FBI officials who had worked on the case. And former federal prosecutor Elie Honig told CNN Thursday that he had never seen such a flagrant political act by the Justice Department.
“The fix is in,” said Honig, a legal analyst for CNN.
“This is an absolute injustice. Michael Flynn lied to the FBI, he pled guilty under oath in federal court to doing that, he took a plea, and then what does Bill Barr do? He says of all the tens of thousands of cases he’s been in charge of in the Department of Justice, look at that one,” Honig said. “And now we see Bill Barr doing Donald Trump’s dirty work.”
CNN’s Marshall Cohen, Joe Johns Kaitlan Collins and Stephen Collinson contributed to this report.