President tells New York Times he wouldnt have hired attorney general had he known hed recuse himself from Russia inquiry, because its extremely unfair
Donald Trump has unleashed an extraordinary barrage of criticism against several of his own top officials, accusing senior members of the Department of Justice (DoJ) of having conflicts of interest and expressing regret that he had appointed Jeff Sessions as US attorney general.
In a 50-minute interview with the New York Times, conducted in the Oval Office on Wednesday, Trump delivered a splurge of invective against key players within his own administration that was exceptional even by his own unconventional standards. At the center of his attack was Sessions, the former senator from Alabama who was forced to step aside from the investigation into possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign in March after meetings he had failed to disclose with the Russian ambassador came to light.
Trump attacked Sessions for recusing himself from the inquiry, adding that he would never have given Sessions the job as the countrys chief law enforcement officer had he known. 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.
The US president described Sessions actions as extremely unfair and thats a mild word to the president.
Sessions was not the only senior justice official to get it in the neck from their leader. The No 2 at the DoJ, Rod Rosenstein, was charged by Trump of carrying a critical conflict of interest.
Trump said that Rosenstein had recommended that he dismiss the head of the FBI James Comey (the president had in fact already made up his mind) and had then gone on to appoint as special counsel on the Russian investigation Robert Mueller, who is now looking into whether the Comey firing was an illegal obstruction of justice. Well, thats a conflict of interest, the president said.
In a comment that might lose him a few supporters in Baltimore, Maryland, Trump went on to denigrate Rosenstein by saying he had been annoyed to discover the city from which his deputy had hailed. There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any, he said.
For good measure, the president also took a swipe at the current acting head of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, pointing out that his wife, Jill, had received political donations from a Democratic fund. He also doubled down on his attacks on Comey, calling the former FBI chiefs testimony to Congress as being loaded up with lies; and he took a pot-shot at his potential nemesis, Mueller, who he said had applied for the job of US attorney general before it was given to Sessions.
Talk about conflicts, the president of the United States said. He was interviewing for the job.
A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment on Trumps interview.
Trump also seemed to take an unorthodox view of the hierarchy at the Department of Justice and insisted that the FBI director reported directly to him.
And when Nixon came along [inaudible] was pretty brutal, and out of courtesy, the FBI started reporting to the Department of Justice, said the president, apparently recounting his reminiscences of post-Watergate reforms. But there was nothing official, there was nothing from Congress. There was nothing anything. But the FBI person really reports directly to the president of the United States, which is interesting.
The FBI director has reported directly to the attorney general since the bureaus creation.
Despite the multifarious threats of the continuing investigation into possible collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russia to distort the outcome of the 2016 election, the president seemed to be blithely unconcerned about his choice of words to one of the countrys most powerful news organizations. Asked about his previously unpublicized second meeting with Vladimir Putin at the recent G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, he said the conversation consisted of pleasantries more than anything else.
Then he voluntarily divulged that the two national leaders had talked about adoption. As Trump himself went on to point out, adoption commonly considered to be a euphemism for opposition to US sanctions on Russia was also a main topic of conversation in the notorious Trump Tower meeting last June between his son Donald Jr, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, his then campaign manager Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer with Kremlin connections that was revealed last week.
Trump said the common ground between his Putin discussion and his sons meeting in Trump Tower was interesting. It remains to be seen whether Mueller and his team of investigators agree.
Ben Jacobs contributed to this report