U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had suggested in the past several weeks he might resign amid a widening rift with President Donald Trump, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Sessions has come under fire from the president over his recusal from an investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, an inquiry that’s now exploring whether Trump associates colluded with Moscow. The attorney general’s suggestion that he might consider quitting was reported earlier by ABC News and confirmed by a person familiar who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity.
Trump also has assailed the Justice Department for its handling of the administration’s controversial travel ban, and he accused it in a series of tweets on Monday of weakening his plans to limit entry for citizens from about a half-dozen Muslim nations. Both versions of Trump’s travel ban have been blocked by federal courts.
“The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted,” Trump said in one tweet on Monday. Trump himself signed both versions of the ban.
On Tuesday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer declined to say whether Trump retains confidence in Sessions, following Trump’s tweets on the travel ban.
“I have not had a discussion with him about that,” Spicer responded after a reporter asked whether Trump continued to support his attorney general.
Spicer gave a similar answer on May 9 when asked whether Trump still had confidence in then-FBI Director James Comey. Trump fired Comey later that day.
Comey is scheduled to testify on Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee about his interactions with Trump. The ousted Federal Bureau of Investigation chief is expected to discuss whether the president asked him to slow the Russia probe and a related inquiry into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Sessions, 70, occupies a unique role in Trump’s world. He was the first senator to endorse him as a candidate and defended him without reservation through the darkest moments of the campaign. After Trump’s unexpected victory, the Alabama senator was given his choice of Cabinet positions.
Yet, less than a month after taking office as attorney general, Sessions found himself at the center of controversy following reports that he had failed to disclose during his confirmation hearings two conversations he had in 2016 with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Revelations about his contacts with Kislyak forced Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigations. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia hacked and released Democrats’ emails during the campaign to hurt candidate Hillary Clinton and, ultimately, try to help Trump win.
Sessions has acknowledged that he met with Kislyak briefly along with other ambassadors at the Republican National Convention in July and in a longer private meeting in his Senate office in September. He has said the meetings were in the context of his role as a senator, not as a adviser and supporter of Trump.
Last month, Sessions came under fire again after the Justice Department acknowledged that he didn’t disclose his contacts with Kislyak when he applied for the security clearance he would hold as the nation’s top law enforcement official. The omission came on the advice of staff and an FBI investigator, the agency said.
With the recusal by Sessions, oversight of Russia-related investigations now falls to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein named former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel under his authority to oversee the Russia probes. Rosenstein is scheduled to testify on Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee about U.S. surveillance programs.