Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions' Unraveling Relationship: A Timeline

The president and the attorney general have had a contentious union for almost as long as Trump has been in office.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have job security until November but few are betting on their friendship after that. The fact is that he’s been at odds with his boss, President Donald Trump, for the majority of his tenure.

Their relationship began to deteriorate almost immediately after the Senate confirmed Sessions to head the Justice Department in February 2017. Resignation rumors erupted just months later and, although Trump has denied it, speculation that he’s planning to replace the attorney general hasn’t gone away since.

Here’s a breakdown of how and when this “bromance” soured:

February 2016: Sessions Backs Trump Campaign

In early 2016, then-Sen. Sessions (Ala.) was one of the first establishment Republicans to throw his support behind Trump’s presidential campaign. Most prominent members of the GOP were still rallying behind more conventional candidates, such as Sens. Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, when Sessions began to hedge his bets. 

“I told Donald Trump this isn’t a campaign, this is a movement,” Sessions said back then. “Look at what’s happening. The American people are not happy with their government.”

November 2016: Trump Picks Sessions For Attorney General

Sessions became a Trump surrogate not long after he threw his support behind the real estate mogul. The Alabama senator appeared on television throughout the campaign to discuss some of the candidate’s policy ideas. 

His loyalty was rewarded.

On Nov. 18, 2016, Trump announced he would nominate Sessions to his Cabinet. The president-elect’s statement called Sessions a “world-class legal mind” and, referring to offices Sessions had previously held in Alabama, said he’d been “considered a truly great Attorney General and U.S. Attorney.”

January 2017: Sessions Missteps At Confirmation Hearing

The first fracture began to crack during Sessions’ confirmation hearings. Sitting in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he made a big mistake under questioning from then-Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). 

“If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?” Franken asked. 

“Sen. Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions responded. “I’ve been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians and I’m unable to comment on it.” 

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also asked Sessions in a written questionnaire if he had “contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government” before or after Election Day. Sessions responded that he did not. 

Reports later indicated that both of Sessions’ statements were false. But in the meantime, he had been confirmed as attorney general.

March 2017: Sessions Recuses Himself 

The Washington Post reported in March 2017 that Sessions had actually met with Russians during Trump’s campaign, directly contradicting his testimony to the Senate weeks before. He had met two times with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. 

Sessions denied accusations that he’d lied in his Senate testimony, insisting that he’d simply failed to recall the meetings and that, in any case, they were held in his capacity as a senator. The attorney general did, however, choose to recuse himself from any Justice Department investigations into Russian interference in the election. 

“I have now decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaign for president of the United States,” Sessions said at a press conference in March.

“This announcement should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the scope of any such investigation,” he added.

July 2017: Trump Undercuts Sessions To New York Times

Whether or not it was clear at the time, Sessions’ decision to recuse himself seems to have struck the death blow to his relationship with the president. Trump told The New York Times that he wouldn’t have considered Sessions for the Cabinet role if he had known that Sessions would bow out of the Russia investigation.

“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have ― which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the president,” Trump told the Times in July 2017.

“How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president,” he continued. 

Trump also tweeted about Sessions’ work at the Justice Department in July, claiming the attorney general had taken a “VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes.”

Resignation rumors began to spread less than six months into Sessions’ tenure as attorney general. Sources told CNN and The New York Times that he had offered to resign earlier that year after a series of heated exchanges with the president.

But the day after the Times interview ran, Sessions denied speculation that he was weighing a departure, saying he would continue on “so long as that is appropriate.”

March 2018: Sessions Extends An Olive Branch

Sessions made a peace offering to Trump after the president sent a number of critical tweets early that year. In March 2018, a year after his recusal, Sessions announced he would look into several matters identified as priorities by Republicans

The announcement came in response to a letter from Republican lawmakers requesting a second special counsel to investigate the FBI’s handling of both the Trump-Russia investigation and a separate inquiry into the Obama administration’s approval of the Uranium One deal while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

For months on Twitter and at speaking engagements, Trump railed against what he claimed was FBI bias against him and leniency toward Clinton.

President Donald Trump sits next to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony on Dec. 15
President Donald Trump sits next to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony on Dec. 15, 2017, in Quantico, Virginia. 

May 2018: Reports Say Trump Asked Sessions To Reverse Recusal

Tensions between the president and the attorney general seemed to simmer down until a New York Times report in May, which reported that Trump had asked Sessions to “unrecuse” himself and take control of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. 

Trump allegedly berated Sessions to his face for his decision to step away from the probe and insisted he reverse the recusal, the Times reported.

June 2018: Trump Dials Up His Disdain

The president lashed out at Sessions again in June, blaming the attorney general for the prolonged Russia investigation. 

“So much time and money wasted, so many lives ruined...and Sessions knew better than most that there was No Collusion!” Trump tweeted

August 2018: Sessions’ Future Looks Bleak 

Tensions came to a boiling point in August as Mueller won his first major victories in the Russia investigation. Two former Trump allies, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, were convicted of charges brought against them as a result of Mueller’s probe. 

Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, was found guilty of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to report foreign bank and financial accounts. The judge declared a mistrial on 10 other charges, but Manafort still faces up to 80 years in prison. 

On the same day as Manafort’s conviction, Cohen admitted to illegally interfering in the 2016 election. Trump’s longtime lawyer pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion, two counts related to an illegal campaign contribution and one count of making a false statement. 

Trump’s ire toward Sessions came out in full force on Twitter.

The president threatened to further intervene in the Justice Department during a “Fox & Friends” interview. He publicly questioned “what kind of man” Sessions was, claiming he had only given Sessions a position out of loyalty. 

“Even my enemies say that Jeff Sessions should have told you he was going to recuse himself and then you wouldn’t have put him in,” Trump said. “He took the job and then he said, ‘I’m going to recuse myself.’ I said, ‘What kind of man is this?’” 

Sessions fought back publicly, saying that he would not allow politics to influence the Justice Department and that he was proud of his work. 

Inevitably, speculation re-emerged in August about Session’s future in the administration. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters it was “very likely” Trump would be replacing Sessions soon. 

“The president is entitled to an attorney general he has faith in,” Graham said after Trump’s Fox News interview. “And I think there will come a time sooner rather than later where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice.”

Trump told Bloomberg last week that he does “question what is Jeff doing.” The president said Sessions’ position was safe until the midterm elections, but declined to discuss whether he would replace the attorney general after that.



Jeff Sessions Speaks Before Senate Intelligence Committee