President Donald Trump would not have picked Jeff Sessions to serve as attorney general if he’d known Sessions would recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Trump told the New York Times on Wednesday.
The explosive statement was one of many that Trump made in a wide-ranging interview that also included sharp criticisms of special counsel Robert Mueller, whose probe includes whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” Trump said. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”
Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, was one of Trump’s earliest supporters during the 2016 campaign, even when many elected Republicans sought to keep their distance from the real estate mogul.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
Trump also discussed his controversial firing of FBI Director James Comey, who has since testified under oath that Trump asked him to drop his investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn before firing him. Trump has repeatedly denied that claim, including in the Times interview.
He told the Times that he believed Comey briefed him on an explosive dossier obtained by American intelligence, which alleged Russia held compromising information about Trump, in order to gain “leverage.”
“When he brought it to me, I said this is really, made-up junk. I didn’t think about any of it. I just thought about man, this is such a phony deal,” Trump told the Times.
Trump also touched on his recently reported private conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a dinner for G-20 leaders. He said the conversation was brief and touched on the issue of Russia’s ban on adoptions by Americans, which Donald Trump Jr. also said was the topic of his meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
Trump was joined during the interview only by longtime aide Hope Hicks, according to the Times – though the paper also noted he was briefly interrupted by his daughter Ivanka Trump and 6-year-old granddaughter.