WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump on Tuesday was noncommittal on whether he still had confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions, after repeatedly expressing displeasure in Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the ongoing investigations into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian officials.
“We will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell,” Trump said, after dodging questions on whether he would fire Sessions.
At a joint press conference with Lebanon’s prime minister, Trump received multiple questions on Sessions. The president admitted in a New York Times interview published last week that he would not have appointed Session had he known beforehand about the recusal.
When asked by Bloomberg’s Margaret Talev whether he was letting Sessions “twist in the wind,” Trump said: “I don’t think I’m doing that.”
But he would not say outright whether he planned to fire the attorney general.
Instead, Trump reiterated that he was “disappointed” in Sessions’ recusal. He added, as he had asserted to the Times, that he “would have picked someone else.”
Trump said Sessions needs to be “much tougher on the leaks from the intelligence agencies.” Those sentiments echo several of tweets he wrote this week in which he bullied Sessions, including one in which he called the attorney general “beleaguered.”
Earlier Tuesday, the president similarly declined to tell the Wall Street Journal whether he would fire Sessions.
The president himself is used to shooting from the hip and doesn’t know that there’s some things that he’s better off not getting involved in. John F. Wood, a U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri during President George W. Bush’s administration
Sessions recused himself from the investigation in March, after he was found not to have disclosed multiple meetings he had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He also cited his role as an adviser on Trump’s campaign.
Trump’s attacks on Sessions are among a series of unprecedented violations of Department of Justice norms. Generally, the White House and DOJ operate with strict protocols to maintain independence.
Former Justice Department officials on both sides of the political aisle expressed astonishment at Trump’s criticisms, which have furthered the appearance that the president is trying to throw cold water on the investigations into his campaign.
“I think it’s certainly correct that the president is not really familiar with the traditional lines between the Justice Department and the White House,” John F. Wood, a U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri during President George W. Bush’s administration, told HuffPost last week. “The president himself is used to shooting from the hip and doesn’t know that there’s some things that he’s better off not getting involved in.”
Wood said he “could not imagine President Bush saying something like that about really anyone who worked for him,” referring to Trump’s comments about Sessions.
“I think it hurts morale,” Wood added. “I think it is disruptive, and it undermines the attorney general within the Justice Department.”
Trump is “obviously frustrated” with Sessions and “probably” wants the attorney general to go, new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday morning.
A DOJ spokeswoman declined to comment on Trump’s remarks from Tuesday.
This article has been updated with more context about Sessions and the Department of Justice.
Ryan J. Reilly contributed reporting.