Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat House passes concealed carry gun bill Rosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee next week MORE’s job security is in question after taking withering fire from fellow Republicans this week, including from two prominent House conservatives who called on him to resign.
Two leaders of the House Freedom Caucus, Reps. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTrump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges ‘entitlement reform’ next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Overnight Finance: Trump says shutdown ‘could happen’ | Ryan, conservatives inch closer to spending deal | Senate approves motion to go to tax conference | Ryan promises ‘entitlement reform’ in 2018 MORE (R-N.C.) and Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanOvernight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges ‘entitlement reform’ next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Overnight Finance: Trump says shutdown ‘could happen’ | Ryan, conservatives inch closer to spending deal | Senate approves motion to go to tax conference | Ryan promises ‘entitlement reform’ in 2018 House conservatives, Ryan inch closer toward spending deal MORE (R-Ohio), called on Sessions to step aside in an op-ed Friday, charging he has lost control of the Department of Justice and the FBI.
Sessions has also come under criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike for his decision to rescind the Obama-era Cole memo, which gave states the space to legalize marijuana without fear of federal interference.
By withdrawing the memo, Sessions gave federal prosecutors more leeway to pursue cases against the legal marijuana industry, which is expanding rapidly in several states.
Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerDems look to use Moore against GOP McConnell: ‘No change of heart’ on Roy Moore US trade deficit rises on record imports from China MORE (R), whose home state of Colorado is host to a booming legal cannabis industry, ripped Sessions on the Senate floor Thursday and accused him of breaking a personal pledge not to change the Obama-era policy.
“When you have Republicans calling for you to step down and you’re in a Republican administration just entering your second year, that’s trouble. He’s really on borrowed time,” said Brian Darling, a Republican strategist and former Senate aide.
“This is an attorney general who has been ridiculed by his own boss on Twitter,” he said, referring to President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE. “At one point he didn’t have the confidence of his own boss and he’s losing the confidence of the Freedom Caucus and conservatives in the House and Senate.”
Trump reiterated his frustration with Sessions in a recent interview, again criticizing his decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“I thought it was certainly unnecessary, I thought it was a terrible thing,” Trump told The New York Times.
A new report this week revealed the lengths to which Trump went to keep Sessions from turning over the Russia probe to Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinDOJ failed to interview FBI informant before it filed charges in Russian nuclear bribery case Deputy AG Rosenstein: Charlottesville marchers advocated ‘racism and bigotry’ White House could use ethics rule to hamper special counsel on Russia: report MORE.
The president took the unusual step of sending White House counsel Don McGahn to lobby Sessions against recusal, according to The Times. Sessions told McGahn his mind was made up, saying he had been advised to do so by other officials in the Justice Department.
The recusal has become a sore spot in the relationship between Trump and Sessions. The president reportedly blames his attorney general for the appointment of Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE as special counsel, a move that was made by Rosenstein.
“There’s a feeling on the right that Rod Rosenstein is running the Justice Department, not Jeff Sessions. He’s not doing anything. He’s recused himself to the point that he can’t do his job anymore,” Darling said.
Sessions is still taking heat from the president’s allies over the decision.
Meadows and Jordan argued in an op-ed published in the Washington Examiner on Friday that the FBI investigation into Russian collusion has run amok.
“It would appear he has no control at all of the premier law enforcement agency in the world,” they wrote.
“If Sessions can’t address this issue immediately, then we have one final question needing an answer: When is it time for a new attorney general? Sadly, it seems the answer is now,” they concluded.
Rep. Dana RohrabacherDana Tyrone RohrabacherMueller grand jury to question Flynn associate: report GOP lawmaker says FBI seeking interview about Assange meeting Pelosi blasts California Republicans for supporting tax bill MORE (R-Calif.) in an interview Friday accused Sessions of betraying Trump by giving special counsel Robert Mueller unfettered ability to investigate the president.
“He is a Cabinet-level piñata. He doesn’t seem to enjoy the confidence and trust of the president. He’s done a number of things on immigration and the most recent on marijuana that seem not to be playing well across the country,” said Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University.
“I’m sure there are days that Attorney General Sessions wishes he were back in the United States Senate,” he added.
A Trump administration official, however, said Friday that there’s little chance that criticism from Meadows, Jordan or other congressional Republicans would pressure Sessions to resign.
“If the president starts to criticize him again, that’s a different story,” the source said.
Sessions offered his resignation to Trump earlier this year but the president declined to accept it.
The official said Sessions has responded to Trump’s earlier criticism that the Department of Justice hadn’t done enough to investigate his 2016 rival Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP lawmakers cite new allegations of political bias in FBI Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father MORE.
The department has reopened an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state and launched a new probe into the Clinton Foundation.
“He has started to rebut the earlier criticism,” the source said of Sessions.
Ironically, Sessions’s biggest allies may be Democrats who don’t want him to step down as attorney general. They fear a new attorney general who is not bound by a recusal could bring the Russian investigation to a swift end.
Even though he opposed his nomination to head the Justice Department last year, Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerAmerica isn’t ready to let Sessions off his leash Schumer celebrates New York Giants firing head coach: ‘About time’ GOP should reject the left’s pessimism and the deficit trigger MORE (D-N.Y.) said Thursday that he wants Sessions to keep his job.
“My view now is very simple: nothing, nothing should ever interfere with the Mueller investigation,” he said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, which would hold hearings and vote on a new attorney general, told CNN, “I don’t think the case has been made for his resigning,” referring to Sessions.
“It would be problematic in a lot of ways,” he said.
Republican strategists say Sessions will probably stay in the job because his resignation or dismissal would cause a major uproar and spark accusations of political interference in the Russia investigation.
“Because of the prominence of the Russia probe it’s very hard to see him leaving the administration even though he has gone against the wishes of the White House in recusing himself,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist. “How are you going to get a new attorney general through Congress?”
The Senate Republican majority has shrunk to 51 seats, and there are several GOP senators who have been outspokenly critical of Trump, including Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: ‘Who the hell are you’ to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE (Ariz.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Sasse: RNC help for Roy Moore ‘doesn’t make any sense’ Sasse calls RNC decision to resume support for Moore ‘bad’ and ‘sad’ MORE (Ariz.) and Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSasse: RNC help for Roy Moore ‘doesn’t make any sense’ Sasse calls RNC decision to resume support for Moore ‘bad’ and ‘sad’ GOP senator: Flake donation to Alabama Dem ‘a bad idea’ MORE (Neb.). That could make the confirmation process for a new attorney general exceedingly difficult.
“The biggest gripe against Sessions is his recusal,” O’Connell said.
“A lot of the other things that Sessions has done, particularly now that we have an investigation into the Clinton Foundation, I think that overall people are relatively happy with Sessions,” he said.
Politico reported Friday that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Regulation: Net neutrality supporters predict tough court battle | Watchdog to investigate EPA chief’s meeting with industry group | Ex-Volkswagen exec gets 7 years for emissions cheating Overnight Energy: Watchdog probes Pruitt speech to mining group | EPA chief promises to let climate scientists present their work | Volkswagen manager gets 7 years for emissions cheating Scott Pruitt’s year of environmental destruction MORE — a former attorney general of Oklahoma — has expressed interest in replacing Sessions if he resigns.
Some GOP officials believe Trump could move Pruitt or another Senate-confirmed senior administration official into the attorney’s job temporarily, but Trump would spark a firestorm if he skipped the Department of Justice’s line of succession, which would call for Rosenstein to replace Sessions.
One Senate Republican parliamentary expert said the president could not unilaterally appoint someone to fill the attorney general’s job permanently and with full power without Senate confirmation.