- President Donald Trump reportedly tried to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia investigation.
- Trump sent a White House lawyer in early 2017 to lobby Sessions because Trump is said to have believed that Sessions would protect him.
- Sessions at the time had faced increasing calls to recuse himself in part because he had not fully disclosed his previous contacts with Russian operatives during the 2016 election.
President Donald Trump took pains to try to limit the Russia investigation in the early months of his administration.
According to a Thursday report from The New York Times, Trump directed a White House lawyer to urge Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia probe, which at the time was led by FBI Director James Comey under the supervision of the Justice Department.
Trump saw Sessions, a staunch ally to him on the 2016 campaign trail, as someone who would protect him during the investigation. Among other things, prosecutors involved in the probe are trying to make sense of Russia’s meddling in the election, which US intelligence officials believe was intended to boost Trump and hamstring his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
White House lawyer Donald McGahn acted on Trump’s order to reign in Sessions, The Times’ Michael Schmidt reported, citing two people familiar with the incident. Sessions did not comply. He officially recused himself in March.
The attorney general had been in the hot seat at the time, after it was revealed that, during his Senate confirmation hearings, he had not fully disclosed his personal contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US. Those revelations put the onus on Sessions to step aside, so as not to tarnish the probe of the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to the Kremlin.
Despite Trump’s efforts, his anger at Sessions, and his firing Comey in May, the Russia investigation has grown exponentially. Special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to lead the investigation in May. At least four of Trump’s former campaign associates have been criminally charged since then.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
The president’s allies in Congress and in right-leaning media circles have escalated their attacks on the Russia probe in recent months.
Some political observers view the effort as an attempt to discredit the investigation, in part by openly questioning whether some of the investigators on Mueller’s team are politically biased against Trump.