Attorney General Jeff Sessions has no plans to leave office, as friends say he’s grown angry with President Donald Trump following a series of attacks meant to marginalize his power and, potentially, encourage his resignation.
“Sessions is totally pissed off about it,” said a Sessions ally familiar with his thinking. “It’s beyond insane. It’s cruel and it’s insane and it’s stupid.”
Sessions’ allies say the president’s criticism of the attorney general is counterproductive. Perhaps more than any other member of Trump’s Cabinet, Sessions has been an uncompromising advocate for Trump’s agenda. The attorney general has worked methodically to dismantle Obama’s legacy at the Justice Department: reconsidering the department’s efforts to make troubled police departments change their practices, changing the DOJ’s stance on voter-ID lawsuits, and rolling back former Attorney General Eric Holder’s sentencing guidelines that were aimed at reduced incarceration and balancing out drug-crime-related punishments.
Every pick for a U.S. Attorney’s office that Sessions has made has underscored the administration’s focus on border security. He’s visited the border twice to emphasize a desire to prosecute undocumented immigrants. He’s passionately defended Trump’s so-called travel ban and threatened to withhold funding from “sanctuary” cities.
In the process, he’s become Public Enemy No. 1 for progressives, which makes his targeting by Trump so baffling to those close to him.
“He’s not going anywhere,” said another Sessions ally. “He is not going to resign. What he is accomplishing is way too important to the country.”
Rather than quit, Sessions insiders predict the attorney general will call Trump’s bluff. And unlike other members of Trump’s Cabinet, he has political wiggle room to do so. Trump’s base of support—immigration restrictionists, rank-and-file law-enforcement officials, and states’ rights conservatives—were Sessions’ fans before they flocked to the president. They may very well scoff at the idea that the administration would be better off without its AG. Sessions also enjoys continued support in the Senate, where he served for a decade. On Tuesday morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) pushed back on Trump’s attacks and called the president’s encouragement that Sessions prosecute Hillary Clinton over her email use “highly inappropriate.”
Much of Trump’s senior staff in the White House doesn’t expect Sessions to leave any time soon either. The attorney general has several hardcore fans within the top ranks, including senior adviser for policy Stephen Miller and chief strategist Steve Bannon, the latter of whom has previously dubbed Session his “mentor.”
“[Sessions] isn’t going anywhere… we’ve all lived through enough of these episodes where people end up getting on the president’s bad side, but guess what? They’re still around,” one White House official noted.
The official added that they have every bit of confidence that Sessions can manage to “ride out the storm.”
Sessions allies insist that the president’s criticisms should be directed at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The Justice Department regulation on recusals is extremely clear: Sessions had no choice but to recuse himself from investigations related to the 2016 presidential election. And that includes any investigations into Clinton’s email server.
Given that he had to recuse, the responsibility for making Bob Mueller special counsel for the Russia probe lies with Rosenstein. But the president has yet to even tweet Rosenstein’s name, though Trump hinted at him last month in one missive.
Sessions’ allies also point out that if the president wanted to get rid of Mueller, he could just get rid of Rosenstein. The fact that he hasn’t done so and is, instead, fixated on his attorney general, is treated as evidence that he’s behaving irrationally.
As Trump continues to torment Sessions, some of the AG’s allies have begun advocating steps to re-establish his position inside the administration. In particular, leading conservative voices have begun encouraging Sessions to undo his recusal, arguing that Mueller’s probe has extended beyond activities that happened during the campaign.
“I think he ought to really think about revisiting the reason for recusal,” said Cleta Mitchell, a longtime Washington conservative superlawyer.
“I love Attorney General Sessions,” she added. “I think he’s fabulous.”
And on Tuesday afternoon, President Trump held a news conference in the White House Rose Garden, and again took another shot at his attorney general. “I want the attorney general to be much tougher on the leaks from intelligence agencies,” Trump said, flanked by senior staff including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Gary Cohn. “These are intelligence agencies—we cannot have that happen.” The president reiterated that as “I’ve told you before, I am very disappointed with the attorney general, but we will see what happens.”
“Time will tell, time will tell,” Trump added.