Members of both parties came to the defense of Attorney General Jeff Sessions Wednesday as President Donald Trump continued to attack the leadership of his own Justice Department.
Trump renewed his criticism of Sessions early Wednesday on Twitter, questioning why the attorney general did not remove the acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, whose wife he incorrectly claimed was given $700,000 by “Hillary Clinton and her representatives” for a 2015 Virginia Senate campaign.
A day earlier, Trump called Sessions “VERY weak” in his handling of the Clinton email investigation, which was closed months before Sessions took office. He has also repeatedly complained about the attorney general recusing himself from the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Often prefacing their comments with a disclaimer that they do not agree with Sessions on policy, Democrats on Capitol Hill blasted the president for turning against one of his longest-standing allies.
“The way the president is treating Mr. Sessions is a disgrace,” said Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla. “It’s an embarrassment. It is not the way the leader of this country should act.”
She dismissed Trump’s complaints about Sessions as an effort to shut down the Russia investigation, adding that the president’s constant attempts to undermine the special counsel handling the case, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, raise suspicions.
“If you have nothing to hide, you can count on Robert Mueller…to do a transparent and honest investigation,” she said.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said Sessions, an outspoken Trump surrogate during the campaign and a member of his transition team, rightly recognized his conflict of interest when the investigation turned to the campaign’s actions.
“Attorney General Sessions did the right thing when he recused himself in regards to the Russia investigation,” he said. “He was required to do that under the regulations of the Department of Justice.”
He also suggested the president’s anger at Sessions reflects a misunderstanding of the job he appointed him to do.
“We want the attorney general to be the lawyer for the people of this country, not the personal lawyer for the president of the United States,” he said.
Regardless of who Trump puts in the job, Cardin wants the attorney general to keep the Justice Department independent of the president.
“I don’t want somebody who would be intimidated by the president of the United States,” he said.
Some Republicans defended Trump’s frustration over Sessions’ recusal and the investigative activities that followed, but they also backed Sessions to some extent.
“I don’t think that Mr. Sessions should resign,” said Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas. “I can understand the president’s frustration. Here he is being investigated for collusion with Russia. There’s not one shred of evidence of that.”
The fact that the investigation has entangled the president’s son and son-in-law may be particularly difficult, but Babin emphasized the loyalty Sessions has consistently shown to Trump.
“Knowing Mr. Trump as I do, I think he values loyalty,” he said. “Certainly he’s frustrated, but I hope this thing gets worked out in a way that we see true justice done…. These are nothing but distractions to prevent the Trump administration from getting the agenda passed that he ran and won on.”
Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, said he was surprised by Sessions’ recusal from the investigation, but he suggested the president should reconcile with his top law enforcement official.
“I hope that they work through their differences,” he said.
Davidson noted that Sessions was an early backer of the president, becoming the first senator to publicly endorse his campaign.
“There’s been no more loyal early stage supporter than Jeff Sessions,” he said.
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., hesitated to offer his own opinion on what he said is a personnel issue for the president to work out with his own Cabinet.
“I guess it’s analogous to a situation if we were a ball team,” he said. “If I’m out there playing first base, I’m going to play the best first base I can. I’m going to let the outfield and the pitchers worry about their job and their functions.”