After Trump offered fresh criticism of Sessions on Twitter on Thursday, Sessions responded with a statement saying his department would “not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”
In his Friday tweets, Trump quoted Sessions’s statement, calling it “GREAT” and “what everyone wants.”
“Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.” Jeff, this is GREAT, what everyone wants, so look into all of the corruption on the “other side” including deleted Emails, Comey lies & leaks, Mueller conflicts, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Ohr......— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 24, 2018
....FISA abuse, Christopher Steele & his phony and corrupt Dossier, the Clinton Foundation, illegal surveillance of Trump Campaign, Russian collusion by Dems - and so much more. Open up the papers & documents without redaction? Come on Jeff, you can do it, the country is waiting!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 24, 2018
But Trump then ticked off a list of issues that he said Sessions should be investigating, including Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state; the alleged “lies & leaks” of former FBI director James B. Comey; the alleged “conflicts” of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III; the anti-Trump texts sent by former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page; and the alleged “illegal surveillance” of Trump’s campaign in 2016, a claim that has been largely discredited.
In a later tweet, Trump referenced the case of Reality Winner, a Georgia woman who was sentenced this week to 63 months in prison for leaking a classified report on Russian hacking.
Trump called that “small potatoes” compared with what he claimed Clinton did with her email server, an issue that was investigated by the FBI and subsequently closed without criminal charges.
“So unfair Jeff, Double Standard,” the president wrote.
Ex-NSA contractor to spend 63 months in jail over “classified” information. Gee, this is “small potatoes” compared to what Hillary Clinton did! So unfair Jeff, Double Standard.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 24, 2018
Trump’s tweets prompted an immediate backlash from Democratic lawmakers, who said it was further evidence of the president overstepping his bounds with the Justice Department.
On Twitter, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Trump appeared to be getting more serious about firing Sessions and “turning DOJ into the law enforcement arm for his political grudges.”
In a tweet directed at Trump, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said that prosecutors “take an oath to the Constitution, not to you.”
“They decide who to investigate based on a review of the evidence,” Lieu said. “That’s why you & your associates (and not Hillary) are under investigation.”
Trump’s tweets come amid a relentless attack on Mueller’s ongoing investigation into possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia in the 2016 election and whether Trump has obstructed that probe.
This week, the Justice Department secured a guilty plea from Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen and a guilty verdict against his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort on charges that surfaced amid the investigation but were not directly related to Russian election interference.
Cohen pleaded guilty to charges that included campaign finance violations stemming from payments to two women to remain silent about alleged affairs with Trump. Manafort was convicted on fraud charges related to work before he joined the Trump campaign.
On Thursday, speaking to Fox News Channel, Trump said that Sessions “never took control of the Justice Department” and again faulted him for recusing himself from the investigation of Russian interference in the presidential campaign.
“What kind of man is this?” said Trump, who also asserted that he appointed Sessions as attorney general only because of the loyalty that the then-senator demonstrated during the campaign.
That prompted the statement from Sessions defending his department and pushing back against attempts at what he called improper political influence.
During the Fox interview, Trump declined to say whether he plans to fire Sessions, a move that even some Republicans have cautioned Trump not to make.
“I would just like to say, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, and as a member of this body, I find it really difficult to envision any circumstance where I would vote to confirm a successor to Jeff Sessions if he is fired because he is executing his job, rather than choosing to act in a partisan hack,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said during a speech Thursday on the Senate floor.
“The attorney general should not be fired for acting honorably and for being faithful to the rule of law.”