- Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
- Special counsel Robert Mueller is said to be investigating President Donald Trump’s heated attacks last summer on Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
- At the time, Trump asked why the “beleaguered” attorney general wasn’t “looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations.”
- Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation is a key point of frustration for Trump, who once reportedly asked why he couldn’t order “my guys” at the “Trump Justice Department” to do his bidding.
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The special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is eyeing a key time period between late July and early August of last year, during which President Donald Trump significantly ramped up his attacks against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
The line of questioning relates to an obstruction-of-justice case Mueller has been building against the president since last May, shortly after Trump fired FBI director James Comey.
Comey was overseeing the Russia investigation at the time of his firing. The White House initially said Comey was fired because of the way he handled the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. But Trump later said on national television that he fired Comey, in part, because of “this Russia thing.” He also reportedly told two top Russian government officials that the FBI director’s dismissal had taken “great pressure” off of him.
After Comey’s firing, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel in charge of the Russia investigation. Typically, the appointment of a special counsel falls on the attorney general. But Sessions was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation last March, after it emerged that he failed to disclose his interactions with Sergei Kislyak, then Russia’s ambassador to the US, during his Senate confirmation hearing in January.
Sessions’ recusal is a key point of frustration for Trump, who once reportedly asked why he couldn’t order “my guys” at the “Trump Justice Department” to do what he wanted.
When the Russia investigation began picking up steam last summer, so did Trump’s attacks on his hand-picked attorney general.
“So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?” Trump tweeted on July 24.
In another tweet minutes later, Trump called California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, “sleazy” and “totally biased,” and accused him of spending “all of his time on television pushing the Dem loss excuse!”
The House Intelligence Committee is one of several congressional bodies investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 race. While Republicans on the panel have been investigating what they characterize as the FBI’s misconduct in the Russia investigation, Schiff has been leading the Democrats’ calls to focus on the central question of whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to sway the 2016 race in his favor.
Trump continued his Twitter rampage the next day. “Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!” Trump tweeted.
“Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation …” he tacked on the following day. McCabe was forced out of the FBI earlier this year amid an internal investigation into his handling of the Clinton email probe.
Trump’s tweets last summer came after he admitted, during an interview with The New York Times the previous week, that he would not have nominated Sessions to be attorney general if he had known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
“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 told the Times.
Sessions again sparked Trump’s ire when he announced Tuesday that the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, was investigating House Intelligence Committee Republicans’ accusations – laid out in a controversial memo released earlier this month – that the FBI abused its authority in seeking a warrant to surveil a former Trump campaign adviser in 2016.
House Democrats on Saturday released a memo countering those claims, arguing that the Justice Department and the FBI provided ample evidence to the surveillance court that justified seeking the so-called FISA warrant.
Horowitz has been the department’s inspector general since 2012.
Following Sessions’ announcement, Trump got on Twitter to unleash another barrage of criticism toward the attorney general.
“Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse,” Trump tweeted Wednesday, referring to surveillance warrants granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. “Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!”
Sessions was seen dining with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Solicitor General Noel Francisco on Wednesday in what the news website Axios described as a show of solidarity.
Trump’s social-media tirades have raised ethical questions before.
Experts were floored in December, when Trump tweeted, one day after former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements to investigators in the Russia investigation, that he had to fire Flynn in February 2017 because Flynn “lied to the FBI.”
Comey testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee last June that Trump asked him, during a private Oval Office meeting the day after Flynn was fired, to drop the FBI’s investigation into the former national security adviser. Comey gave no indication that he would do so, and he was fired three months later.
Legal experts said that if Trump knew Flynn had misled investigators when he asked Comey to let go of the investigation, as his tweet suggested, it would significantly bolster the obstruction against him.
Trump’s personal defense lawyer later took responsibility for the tweet, claiming he had authored it. He added that suggesting the tweet admitted to obstruction was an “ignorant” and “arrogant” assertion.