- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2018

President Trump accused Attorney General Jeff Sessions Thursday of surrendering control of the Justice Department to Democrats, prompting Mr. Sessions to counter that he won’t be “improperly influenced” by politics, a public clash that had senior Republican lawmakers predicting the president will soon fire the nation’s top law-enforcement official.

The president’s long-running acrimony for Mr. Sessions, whom he blames for starting special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, boiled over in an interview broadcast on “Fox & Friends.”

“I put in an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions,” Mr. Trump said. “The Dems are very strong in the Justice Department.”

The president recited at least five high-profile criminal cases in which he said federal prosecutors showed partisan bias by ignoring Democrats’ crimes, such as Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails, or unfairly targeting Republicans, including the conviction of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort in federal court this week for tax evasion.

He said he hired Mr. Sessions out of loyalty from the campaign, and he “should have told me” about stepping away from the Russia probe.

“He took the job, and then he said I’m going to recuse myself. I said what kind of a man is this?” Mr. Trump said.

Asked if he plans to fire Mr. Sessions, the president replied, “Well, I’ll tell you what, as I’ve said, 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.”

Mr. Sessions often has silently endured public barbs from the president, who continually criticizes the attorney general for recusing himself from the Russia probe in early 2017. But this time Mr. Sessions fired back.

“While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” he said in a statement. “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.”

Jim Trusty, former chief of the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Section and now a lawyer with the Washington firm of Ifrah Law, said he believes Mr. Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein have had their fill of Mr. Trump’s criticism.

“It looks like Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein have gotten to the point where they are not going to take every blow,” he said. “They’ve been doing it in a measured way, but they are letting it be known they are not taking it lying down.”

Amid the new level of open warfare, some top Republican senators signaled that Mr. Trump is preparing to remove the attorney general from his post.

“The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, told reporters. “Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president.”

And in a change of position, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said Thursday that he would be able to schedule confirmation hearings for a new attorney general this fall. He previously said he didn’t have time for such a potentially explosive matter.

Mr. Sessions and Mr. Trump met face-to-face Thursday afternoon in the Oval Office, a previously scheduled meeting with other officials on prison reform that ended with the president deciding to hold off any legislative action until after the November midterm elections. The president and attorney general reportedly didn’t acknowledge their latest feud during the session.

But some observers said the relationship between Mr. Trump and Mr. Sessions is increasingly unworkable and that the attorney general should resign before he is fired.

“If you are going to be shamed and humiliated on a daily basis, and bullied and berated in public, the dignified thing to do is submit your resignation,” said Mark Corallo, a former Justice Department official in the Bush administration who worked briefly last year on the Trump legal team and has since spoken with Mr. Mueller’s investigators.

“He [Mr. Trump] is emasculating the guy, and it’s embarrassing. It’s bad for the department and it’s bad for the country. I think Jeff Sessions is an honorable, good man. But at this point he’s not doing himself any favors, he’s not doing his family any favors, he’s not doing the department any favors. It’s hard to watch.”

Several GOP lawmakers stuck up for Mr. Sessions, a former Senate colleague from Alabama.

“I think those of us who’ve worked with Jeff Sessions for the last 15 years or more know him to be an honorable man, somebody who’s dedicated not only to rule of law, but also to the Department of Justice,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. “He’s a quintessential Boy Scout in that respect. And I know this is a difficult position for him to be in, but I think it would be bad for the country, it would be bad for the president, it would be bad for the Department of Justice for him to be forced out under these circumstances. So I hope he stays the course and I hope cooler heads prevail.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, said Mr. Sessions “has been executing his job in a way faithful to his oath of office to the Constitution in trying to defend the rule of law.”

“The idea that Jeff Sessions might be fired because he’s not a political hack is a very, very bad idea,” he said. “It’s a bad idea for the Constitution, it’s a bad idea for public trust, it’s a bad idea for the DOJ and frankly its a really bad idea for the president.”

Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota also defended Mr. Sessions, calling him “the right man for the job.”

“We have a great deal of respect for Attorney General Sessions. We’ve known him personally,” Mr. Rounds said on CNN. “Jeff Sessions is truly a man of principle. He will do the right thing and he will stand his ground.”

At the heart of Mr. Trump’s ire is the special counsel’s probe, which netted another conviction Tuesday in the case of Manafort. Mr. Mueller now has convictions or guilty pleas from four Trump campaign aides, and he referred to prosecutors in Manhattan the case of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight felonies including campaign-finance violations.

In the Fox interview, Mr. Trump criticized the prosecutorial practice of “flipping,” saying people lie to prosecutors about “whoever the next-highest one is,” so that they can obtain more lenient terms.

“I’ve seen it many times,” he said. “I’ve had many friends involved in this stuff. It’s called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal.”

Mr. Trump also pointed to several examples of what he considers misapplied justice, including the case of Imran Awan, the former IT administrator for Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who received no jail time from a judge this week for bank fraud after federal prosecutors didn’t pursue more serious charges of running a spy ring inside Congress and stealing congressional computer equipment.

“He had more information on the corruption of the Democrats than anybody,” Mr. Trump said. “They gave him nothing. He’s a Democrat, he got nothing. The reason he got nothing is because the Dems are very strong in the Justice Department.”

The president then raised the issue of fired FBI agent Peter Strzok and his paramour, FBI attorney Lisa Page, who exchanged anti-Trump text messages during the campaign. Mr. Strzok went on to work on Mr. Mueller’s team.

“It’s really subversion,” the president said of the pair. “And our Justice Department doesn’t do anything about it. There’s such corruption, It’s from before I got here. It’s the Obama administration. They surveilled my campaign.”

When interviewer Ainsley Earhardt noted that Mr. Rosenstein signed the final request for a special court to approve a surveillance warrant, Mr. Trump replied, “It bothers me, it’s always bothered me.”

Mr. Trusty said the jobs at Justice are tough enough without getting second-guessed publicly by the president.

“These guys have an entire department to run,” he said. “They’ve got significant responsibilities that cover the gambit from environmental to criminal to terrorism and then to add this giant pile of quicksand called the Mueller probe makes it more than enough.”

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