President Trump is keeping up relentless pressure on his attorney general, telling reporters “time will tell” whether Jeff Sessions stays or goes.
The latest comments, during a joint news conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, came days after a New York Times interview in which the president expressed anger with Sessions for having recused himself from the Russia investigation and just hours after Trump tweeted that the attorney general had taken “a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes.”
In a tweet on Monday, the president described Sessions as “our beleaguered A.G.”
Sessions’ announcement in March that he would recuse himself from the Russia investigation because of his involvement with the Trump campaign helped pave the way for the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who himself has been a target of criticism from the president.
In an interview published Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal, Trump said he was “very disappointed” in the attorney general. Referring to Sessions’ early support for Trump’s candidacy, the president said, “It’s not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement.”
Asked by a reporter Tuesday why he was letting Sessions “twist in the wind,” the president responded, “I don’t think I am doing that.”
Regarding Sessions’ status, Trump said, “We will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.”
All of Trump’s recent comments seemed to be building to a crescendo in which Sessions, a former longtime GOP senator from Alabama, would either be fired or forced to resign as attorney general. And that apparent inevitability prompted an outpouring of support from former colleagues of Sessions on Capitol Hill.
In a statement, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called Sessions “a good and honorable man” and said the decision to recuse was “the right thing” to do “in order to maintain the impression of impartiality.”
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, tweeted that Sessions was a friend and former colleague with “deep conviction & principle who believes in the rule of law.”
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said, “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,” Cole said.
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah also voiced support for Sessions on Twitter.
However, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin told reporters that it is the president’s sole prerogative whether Sessions remains attorney general.
“Look, the president gets to decide,” Ryan said. “It’s up to the president to decide what his personnel decisions [are], and any possible fallout that comes from that. If he has concerns about anyone in the administration and their conduct in their job, I’m sure he’s going to talk to them directly.”
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, went further, saying he didn’t think Sessions “has been very loyal” to the president. Meadows said the criticism of Sessions was a reflection of Trump’s “growing frustration of this whole Russia thing.”
“The president knows he’s innocent and doesn’t have people defending him,” the congressman said.