The latest public broadsides by President Donald Trump at his Attorney General sparked divisions among Republicans in the Senate on Thursday, as one openly predicted Jeff Sessions could be gone from his job in coming months, while others warned the President against taking any step to replace their former Senate colleague.
“I find it really difficult to envision any circumstance where I would vote to confirm a successor to Jeff Sessions if he is fired because he’s executing his job, rather than choosing to act as a partisan hack,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE).
In a speech on the Senate floor, Sasse said he had personally told the President not to get rid of Sessions, just hours after Mr. Trump had said in an interview on Fox News – again – that he was disappointed in the performance of Sessions, especially with his recusal in the Russia probe.
“The Attorney General’s job is to be faithful to the Constitution and the rule of law,” as Sasse said there had been “lots and lots of goofy talk about firing the Attorney General.”
“Jeff Sessions is doing his job honorably and the Attorney General of the United States should not be fired for acting honorably and for being faithful to the rule of law,” Sasse added.
With only a one vote margin in the Senate, any Republican like Sasse could stand in the way of a replacement for Sessions, who has repeatedly earned the ire of President Trump – basically for not helping to rein in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
In an interview with Fox and Friends broadcast on Thursday morning, the President again publicly blasted his Attorney General, as the President said he chose Sessions for the post because the former GOP Senator had been loyal – and presumably would return the favor to him in that position.
“You know the only reason I gave him the job? Because I felt loyalty, he was an original supporter,” the President said.
But then, Sessions didn’t do what the President wanted on the Russia probe.
“What kind of man is this?” Mr. Trump asked, in the Fox and Friends interview.
A few hours later, in a highly unusual response, the Justice Department issued an official statement in the Attorney General’s name, defending his leadership of the DOJ.
“While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” Sessions said.
Among his former GOP colleagues in the Senate, some like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Sessions pushed out at some point – maybe after the November elections.
“Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the President,” Graham told reporters, in what was a major shift, as Graham has previously warned the President against getting rid of Sessions.
Others who have defended Sessions in the past were also not as vocal after Mr. Trump’s latest jabs – Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) would only say Sessions is a “very good friend of mine,” when asked about his future.
But others warned the President not to try to get rid their former colleague, worried by the fallout, especially with respect to the Russia investigation.
“We don’t have time nor is there a likely candidate who could be confirmed in these circumstances,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the number two Republican in the U.S. Senate.
Democrats meanwhile said the latest threat by the President to get rid of Sessions was nothing more than an effort to interfere with the Russia probe – Sessions earned the ire of President Trump in March of 2017 by recusing himself, leaving Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with oversight authority on the matter.
“While I have opposed many of the actions taken by Attorney General Sessions, it would be unacceptable for the president to fire him now in order to install someone willing to subvert the Mueller investigation,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein.