President Trump escalated his attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, offering a scathing assessment of his performance on the job and in his confirmation hearing.
“I don’t have an attorney general. It’s very sad,” Trump said in an interview with Hill.TV, in which he also said the former senator from Alabama came off as “mixed up and confused” when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January 2017.
Trump has long been publicly critical of Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and said that he has regretted nominating him to lead the Justice Department.
But in the Hill.TV interview, Trump offered broader criticism, including on Sessions’s handling of immigration issues, which has been cheered by Trump allies.
“I’m not happy at the border, I’m not happy with numerous things, not just this,” Trump said, referring to the Russia investigation.
Sessions has implemented some of the most aggressive and controversial steps to try to crack down on illegal immigration — emphasizing “zero tolerance” for those who come to the country illegally, defending the policy of separating families, and issuing a ruling that limits those who qualify for asylum, among other things.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on Wednesday morning.
Trump doubled down on his criticism of Sessions as he left the White House on Wednesday morning for North Carolina to survey hurricane damage.
“I’m disappointed in the attorney general for many reasons, and you understand that,” he told reporters.
After taking another public tongue-lashing from the president, Sessions gave a speech Wednesday to law enforcement officials in Waukegan, Ill., in which he effusively praised Trump.
“Under his strong leadership, we are respecting police again and enforcing our laws,” Sessions said, according to a written version of the speech. “Based on my experience meeting with officers like you across the country, I believe that morale has already improved under President Trump. I can feel the difference.”
In his interview, Trump suggested that he appointed Sessions out of blind loyalty.
“I’m so sad over Jeff Sessions because he came to me,” Trump said. “He was the first senator that endorsed me. And he wanted to be attorney general, and I didn’t see it.”
Trump said Sessions did “very poorly” during the confirmation process.
“I mean, he was mixed up and confused, and people that worked with him for, you know, a long time in the Senate were not nice to him, but he was giving very confusing answers,” Trump said. “Answers that should have been easily answered. And that was a rough time for him.”
Citing Justice Department regulations, Sessions announced his recusal from the Russia investigation in March because of his prominent role in the Trump campaign. Part of the investigation now led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is focusing on whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia.
In the interview, Trump questioned Sessions’s self-recusal, asserting that the FBI “reported shortly thereafter any reason for him to recuse himself.”
It was not immediately clear what he meant.
Career Justice Department ethics officials had told Sessions he had to step aside from any campaign-related investigations.
FBI officials would not have been among those providing advice. Then-FBI Director James B. Comey said at a congressional hearing that he was aware of nonpublic information that he believed would force the attorney general to step aside before Sessions did so, though he declined to specify what those facts were.
Trump, as president, could fire Sessions at any time, but for more than a year, he has chosen instead merely to insult his attorney general. Trump has previously suggested he is unlikely to fire Sessions before the midterm elections in November.
Trump did not offer a firm answer when asked about Sessions’s future by Hill. TV.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “A lot of people have asked me to do that. And I guess I study history, and I say I just want to leave things alone, but it was very unfair what he did.”
“We’ll see how it goes with Jeff,” Trump added. “I’m very disappointed in Jeff. Very disappointed.”
Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.