President Donald Trump continued his sustained attacks on Jeff Sessions, questioning Wednesday why the attorney general didn’t replace Andrew McCabe as acting FBI director after the president fired James Comey in May.
“Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got big dollars ($700,000) for his wife’s political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the Swamp!” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets.
Trump has taken aim at McCabe’s impartiality over the past two days, suggesting Tuesday that it was a “problem” for McCabe to lead a Clinton probe given that his wife, Jill McCabe, accepted a donation during a 2015 Virginia state Senate race from the political action committee of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime friend of the Clintons.
PolitiFact, however, has rated similar claims Trump has made “mostly false.” Jill McCabe’s campaign ended three months before Andrew McCabe was promoted to deputy FBI director, giving him oversight of the Clinton probe, and the decision about whether to prosecute Clinton fell to Comey, who recommended DOJ not pursue charges.
Trump can also designate a wide range of officials from across the Justice Department and the entire government as acting director of the FBI, and Sessions’ approval isn’t legally required. The administration began a process of potentially replacing McCabe with an interim director but appeared to abandon that effort in favor of seeking a nominee for permanent replacement instead.
Trump’s tweets seem to focus more on Sessions’ inaction than McCabe’s perceived wrongdoing, making Wednesday the third consecutive day the president has publicly blasted Sessions, the first U.S. senator to endorse his presidential campaign.
The two are not on speaking terms, but cameras captured Sessions at the White House carrying a binder that said “Principals Small Group Meeting” on Wednesday morning. And a DOJ spokeswoman said Sessions was at the residence for just that, a “routine principals meeting.”
The president began venting his frustration to the nation last Wednesday, when he told The New York Times that he would never have tapped Sessions to lead the Justice Department had he known the then-Alabama senator would recuse himself from the Russia probe that has dogged his administration since before inauguration.
Trump has since called Sessions “beleaguered” and “VERY weak … on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!” And as White House aides have stressed the president’s frustration over Sessions’ recusal, the president himself has expressed his disappointment in his attorney general.
“I’m very disappointed with the attorney general, but we will see what happens,” Trump said at a news conference in the Rose Garden on Tuesday. “Time will tell. Time will tell.”
Trump similarly refused to say whether he would fire Sessions in an Oval Office interview with the Wall Street Journal but called into question the attorney general’s loyalty, suggesting the former senator’s early campaign endorsement was simply a result of the GOP candidate’s massive crowds.
“It’s not like a great loyal thing,” he told the newspaper.
The unprecedented rhetoric coming from the president, who declined Sessions’ resignation months ago, suggests he may now be trying to force Sessions out. The attorney general has no plans to resign, but the president has fumed for months over the recusal, which eventually led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, whose sprawling Russia probe has expanded into the Trump family and finances.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a frequent Trump critic, said the president is showing his weakness by trying to force Sessions into resigning.
“The president is trying to not use his power,” Graham told reporters. “He’s trying to get Sessions to quit, and I hope Sessions doesn’t quit. If the president wants to fire him, fire him.”
White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci hinted Wednesday, however, that Sessions is angling to keep his job. Trump said Tuesday that he wants an attorney general who is “much tougher on the leaks from intelligence agencies.”
“Yeah, I think he has got a plan that he’s put together, and at some point — I don’t know if it will be today, tomorrow or next week — he will announce that plan,” Scaramucci said of Sessions on Wednesday morning in an interview with “Fox & Friends.”
The newest addition to the White House communications staff also suggested that Trump wants Sessions to be loyal to him, despite his commitment to the Constitution, not the president.
“I think what the president is trying to do, he’s trying to signal to people that’ I need your loyalty, I need your advocacy, if you’re doing things that I don’t like, I’m gonna express that,’” he said.
Asked whether the president wants a new attorney general, Scaramucci said he couldn’t say. “I don’t know the answer to that,” he said.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said at a Washington Post event on Wednesday morning that he doesn’t sense that Trump will take steps to fire Sessions.
“I think it’s evident that the president is making it difficult for Attorney General Sessions,” Corker said. “But, I think — I wish it would stop.”
Josh Gerstein and Negassi Tesfamichael contributed to this report.