Two of the highest-profile former Justice Department officials fired by President Donald Trump have weighed in on his criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, condemning the president’s remarks and joking that another round of layoffs at the department could be forthcoming.
In an interview with The New York Times published Wednesday evening, Trump expressed frustration with Sessions over the attorney general’s decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s ongoing Russia investigations and said he would never have appointed Sessions if he’d known that the former Alabama senator would recuse himself.
Trump told the Times that Sessions should have been up-front about his plans to recuse himself, a disclosure that the president said would have led him to pick another candidate for the job of attorney general. "It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president,” Trump said.
That criticism prompted a quick response from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, fired by Trump just days after his inauguration over her refusal to defend the president’s travel ban in court, and former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was abruptly let go along with other Obama-appointed U.S.-attorneys last March.
“POTUS attack on Russia recusal reveals yet again his violation of the essential independence of DOJ, a bedrock principle of our democracy,” Yates wrote on Twitter Thursday morning.
Bharara, who posts frequently to Twitter, linked to the Times interview in one post and wrote “the President today effectively asked Sessions for his resignation. Will he resign or insist on being fired?” In another, he seemingly joked that he was looking “forward to having Jeff Sessions & [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein as colleagues @nyulaw soon. Maybe we can teach employment law together.”
Sessions decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s Russia probe came in late April, amid media reports that he had met multiple times with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. even though he had testified during his Senate confirmation hearing that he had not met with any Russian officials.
Rosenstein, who took over control of the Russia investigation after Sessions’ recusal, later appointed special prosecutor Robert Muller to oversee the probe in the wake of Trump’s abrupt decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey. The president, who has collectively called the Russia investigations, both at the Justice Department and on Capitol Hill, a “witch hunt,” said the bureau’s probe was on his mind as he made his decision to fire Comey.
In his six months as president, Trump has rarely shied away from commenting publicly on the Justice Department and especially on its ongoing investigation into Russia’s efforts to interfere in last year’s presidential campaign, a departure from his predecessors, most of whom steered clear of commenting on ongoing probes.