Making enemies? Trump falls out with more top officials after attacks on Sessions & McCabe
Donald Trump’s rift with senior justice and security appointees, as well as elected Republicans, widened after he criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions in connection with Russia and Ukraine allegations, as well as the acting FBI chief Andrew McCabe.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!” the president tweeted Tuesday morning, calling for an investigation into former Democrat rival Hillary Clinton’s private email servers, and restating a frequent criticism over lack of action around state officials, who leak sensitive internal documents to the media.
“Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign – ‘quietly working to boost Clinton.’ So where is the investigation A.G. [Attorney General],” Trump also wrote, in reference to purported attempts by Ukrainian politicians to collude with the Clinton team to provide compromising information on his campaign manager during the last election cycle.
The verbal assault on Sessions, who was one of Trump’s earliest senior backers during the presidential campaign, came a day after the President called him “beleaguered,” and a week after he said that he wouldn’t have hired the 70-year-old former Alabama Senator if he had known that Sessions would subsequently recuse himself from the investigation into the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Sessions’ move has been reasoned by potential conflict of interest, him being a prominent Trump campaign advisor. He had also been targeted by “Russian collusion” claims, allegedly sharing details of the presidential campaign with the then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, which Sessions has denied.
However, Trump considered the decision to recuse to be “unfair.” On Tuesday, the recently appointed White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, when asked about speculation that Trump plans to fire Sessions, said those suggestions were “probably right,” adding that the president is “frustrated” with the attorney general.
During a White House press conference on Tuesday evening, Trump repeated several of his criticisms, saying he was “very disappointed” with Sessions, and refused to confirm that he would stay in his post, saying only that “time will tell.” He also questioned his appointee’s loyalty, saying he was drawn to support him only by “big crowds” at his rallies.
Sessions has not responded to the broadsides personally, saying only that he plans to stay in his post for “as long as that is appropriate.”
But several Republicans in Congress openly expressed their disagreement with Trump over the handling of the relationship with a man whose stated views on border control, migration and policing closely echo the president’s own.
“I don’t think it helps to throw your own people under the bus. If you think you need to make a change, call him in, have the discussion, make the change. But I don’t think these sorts of public floggings are very helpful,” said Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole.
“Jeff Sessions is far and away the best possible person to be our attorney general in the United States of America. There is no one who could replace him who would follow through and finish out the Trump agenda,” Representative Steve King told the Washington Post.
Mark Meadows, a Representative from North Carolina, said that “the president knows he’s innocent and doesn’t have people defending him,” but said that despite Trump’s words, Sessions has been “very loyal.”
The focus on Sessions has momentarily taken focus off Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. Rosenstein was in charge of appointing former FBI chief Robert Mueller, whom Trump believes has disqualifying conflicts of interests, to lead the Russia investigation. Trump has questioned Rosenstein’s Republican credentials, due to his affiliation with Baltimore, a traditionally Democrat city. The deputy attorney general has so far stayed loyal.
Mueller himself remains in Trump’s sights, as the president has accused him of close friendship with James Comey, the FBI chief fired by Trump, and has said that his investigation is staffed by “Hillary Clinton supporters.” Multiple US news outlets have speculated that the rift with Sessions could be over the Attorney General’s refusal to fire Mueller, and that a potential replacement could be more amenable to Trump’s demands, though no hard evidence has been put forward for this theory.
Comey’s interim replacement, Andrew McCabe, has also made it onto Trump’s blacklist.
“Problem is that the acting head of the FBI & the person in charge of the Hillary investigation, Andrew McCabe, got $700,000 from H[illary] for wife!” tweeted Trump on Tuesday, repeating a claim he has been making since last year.
McCabe has rejected the allegations. Jill McCabe, his wife, ran for a Virginia State Senate seat in 2015, and received the campaign money from an organization headed by Terry McAuliffe, current governor of Virginia and a close associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
The FBI said that McCabe, at the time the deputy director of the organization, did not play a part in his wife’s campaign, but Trump has insisted that his ties to the Clinton family are close enough that he should have recused himself from an investigation into the former Secretary of State’s email server.
McCabe is due to be replaced by Christopher A. Wray, a Trump appointee, but until he is confirmed by Senate, the president has to endure another adversarial relationship in a key post.