President Donald Trump’s persistent attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions has raised an urgent question — is Trump trying to make Sessions quit?
After calling Sessions "beleaguered" on Monday, Trump on Tuesday morning ramped up his public shame campaign against one his earliest high-profile supporters.
"Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!" Trump tweeted, also writing, "Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign – "quietly working to boost Clinton." So where is the investigation A.G. @seanhannity."
Trump has been frank about his frustration that Sessions recused himself from the Russia probes after he came under fire for failing to disclose meetings he had with the Russian ambassador during the campaign.
The recusal — along with other events — paved the way for special counsel Robert Mueller to be appointed, which has led to a sprawling investigation of the president and his closest allies and family members.
Trump also glossed over that Sessions has recused himself from any campaign probes, which include Hillary Clinton matters.
Even with Trump emphatically calling out Sessions during a New York Times interview last week, the attorney general says he will stay on "as long as that is appropriate."
But just how long that will be has suddenly become a hot topic of conversation.
Incoming White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci on Tuesday morning said it was “probably right” that Trump wants Sessions out of the job.
When asked by radio host Hugh Hewitt, “It’s clear the president wants him gone, right?” Scaramucci replied that “I have an enormous amount of respect for the attorney general, but I do know the president pretty well, and if there’s this level of tension in the relationship that — that’s public, you’re probably right.”
Scaramucci also said he didn’t want to speak for Trump but said the president is “obviously frustrated” and that Trump and Sessions “need to work this thing out.”
Trump’s public assault on Sessions is alarming Democrats, who worry that Trump is trying to clear the path for an attorney general who will do more to protect him.
“Fully transparent: @POTUS wants to force Sessions to resign so he can appoint someone to curb Mueller probe. Only works if Senate lets it,” Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is also conducting a Russia probe, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
But if Sessions quits or is fired, Trump does have some options available to him, including appointing an acting attorney general or doing a recess appointment — though it’s not clear how much power that person would have to oust Mueller or otherwise limit the FBI’s Russia investigation.
And so far Sessions is showing no public signs of stepping aside. He left a 20-year career in the Senate to take the job of attorney general, which has allowed him to fulfill some of his long-held goals, including overseeing a widespread crackdown on immigration and other priorities.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), a longtime friend of Sessions, said on Tuesday morning that the attorney general made the “right decision” to recuse himself from the Russia probe.
“I know Jeff Sessions well … and I think he’s doing what he believes he’s obligated to do under the rules that govern attorney generals, and in order to restore the credibility of the Department of Justice and the FBI, something we sorely need,” Cornyn said on CNN.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said on Fox that the situation with Sessions "does not look right."
"The tweets are not helpful for long-term employment. That is between him and the president," Gowdy said.
Trump’s aides have given conflicting signals about the president’s plans for Sessions, possibly because Trump himself has not settled on any such plan.
Newly appointed White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said last Thursday that Trump “clearly” has confidence in Sessions.
"As the president said yesterday, he was disappointed in Attorney General Sessions’ decision to recuse himself. But clearly he has confidence in him or he would not be the attorney general," Sanders said.
On Tuesday, Sanders wasn’t so emphatic.
“But right now Attorney General Sessions is the attorney general. And I haven’t been part of any conversations discussing potential replacements, and so I can’t comment on that,” Sanders said on Fox.
Scaramucci, in his interview with Hewitt, was direct in saying that an attorney general should serve as a “hockey goalie for the president.”
He said Sessions and Trump do not have that sort of relationship.
“When you think about the relationship John F. Kennedy had with his brother as attorney general, or you think about that relationship that the president had with Eric Holder, president Obama, they probably don’t have that sort of a relationship,” Scaramucci said.
“And I think the president, when he thinks about the architecture of his cabinet, I think he needs that sort of a relationship there.”
Negassi Tesfamichael and Jake Lahut contributed to this report.