Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Saturday defended his decision to recuse himself from any investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — a decision for which he has repeatedly been criticized for by President Trump.
Sessions addressed the issue in response to a question after a speech at a Federalist Society event at Georgetown University. When asked whether it was “a mistake” to recuse himself in March 2017, Sessions smiled and shifted uncomfortably before saying: “No, I don’t.”
“No, I think that’s what I had to do,” he added.
The former Alabama senator told the audience that regulations state that if someone participates in a campaign, then they can’t investigate that campaign, and he called that “pretty reasonable.”
“I was chairman of the National Security Committee of the Trump campaign and participated in it. So I didn’t feel like it was, that’s what I was advised, by the professionals, career people in the department and I felt like I had to recuse myself,” he said.
President Trump has repeatedly torn into his attorney general over everything from his failure to pursue a potential prosecution of Hillary Clinton more vigorously to his decision to ask the inspector general to review alleged surveillance abuse by intelligence agencies.
“Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!” Trump tweeted this month about the latter.
Sessions was one of Trump’s earliest supporters and is tight with Trump’s base on issues like immigration and crime. But that solid relationship appeared to collapse after Sessions’ decision to recuse himself.
In an interview with The New York Times last year, Trump said he wouldn’t have appointed Sessions if he had known what he was going to do.
“Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Trump said in July.
According to one published account, Sessions tried to resign last May after Trump called him an “idiot,” but then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus intervened and helped convince him to stay.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Trump now refers to Sessions as “Mr. Magoo” — the bumbling elderly cartoon character — while Sessions’ staff marked the anniversary of his confirmation by buying him a bulletproof vest with his name on it.