Sessions Has no Immediate Plans to Resign, but Gets Trump’s Message

President Donald Trump’s broadside against Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a New York Times interview this week was no careless accident or slip of the tongue.

Instead, the president was sending a message, said a Trump adviser who talked with him after the interview — making a deliberate effort to convey his lingering displeasure with his attorney general, who recused himself in March from the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Politico reads.

“He didn’t just do that randomly,” the adviser said of the president. “There was a certain thinking behind it.”

Precisely what Trump expected Sessions to do in response remains unclear. Sessions said Thursday that he intends to remain in his position for the time being. “I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate,” Sessions said at a Department of Justice news conference.

“We’re serving right now. What we’re doing today is the kind of work that we intend to continue.”

One person close to Sessions said he has no interest in resigning, although he previously offered to do so in late May, following several outbursts by Trump over his recusal.

While the resignation attempt was previously reported, this person told Politico that Trump had demanded that Sessions submit a resignation letter. By the time Sessions did so the following day, Trump had cooled down and rejected the offer.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the episode.

In the interview Wednesday with the Times, Trump suggested he would have picked someone else to run the Justice Department had he known Sessions was going to remove himself from oversight of the Russia probe, which has expanded to include contacts between Kremlin-connected operatives and Trump aides and family members.

“How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you,’” Trump said, calling Sessions’ actions “very unfair.”

Trump further disparaged Sessions’ performance at his confirmation hearing. He also suggested that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Russia probe in Sessions’ stead, isn’t politically loyal to the administration.

One senior administration official said Trump remained angry about the recusal because he didn’t know it was coming and that “it made him look weak.” Trump learned about the recusal from news reports and had no idea it was under serious consideration, this person said.

“He never wants to look weak or give into his critics,” this person said. “This made it seem like Sessions had done something wrong, that there was a reason to recuse himself.”

Trump is also frustrated about the string of legal defeats for the travel ban and occasionally blames Sessions for that, this adviser said.

“I have heard him tell the same story about Jeff Sessions 10 times that he told The New York Times,” the official said. “No one was surprised at it. Everyone knew exactly how he felt. He has said it over and over and over.”

Trump’s public comments provoked a media firestorm and triggered widespread speculation that Sessions might resign or be fired. Yet, after the interview Wednesday, Trump appeared to have no regrets, said the adviser. He was in a great mood and said the exchange with the Times reporters had gone well, this person added.

The adviser said a quick dismissal of Sessions wasn’t likely, nor did Trump think he could immediately fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Rather, this person said, the interview was intended to send a message to Mueller and to make sure Sessions understood the depths of the president’s anger. Several other Trump officials and advisers also said Thursday they do not expect the president to fire Sessions.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump’s comments were not a bid to get Sessions to quit. “I think you know this president well enough to know that if he wanted somebody to take an action, he would make that clear,” Sanders said during a White House briefing.

Another senior administration official said Trump has rarely spoken to Sessions in recent months and had no immediate plan to see him — and added that Sessions is not as often in the West Wing huddling with Trump or other top aides, like Stephen Miller, who worked for Sessions in the Senate before joining the Trump campaign. Sessions still talks to Miller, chief White House lawyer Don McGahn and Rick Dearborn, a longtime Senate aide who joined the administration.

Having the tensions with the president of the United States spill out in public as they did Wednesday created the prospect of a zombie attorney general—going through the motions of the office, while lacking any real connection to or support from the president and the White House.

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