Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday night that he has been hurt by President Trump’s criticisms, but is still honored to serve the president as the nation’s chief law enforcement official and push forward his conservative agenda.
“Well . . . it’s kind of hurtful but the president of the United States is a strong leader,” Sessions said in a Thursday night interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. “He is determined to move this country in the direction that he believes it needs to go to make it great again. And he has had a lot of criticisms and he’s steadfastly determined to get his job done, and he wants all of us to do our jobs — and that’s what I intend to do.”
Sessions said that he does not regret his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, which is what turned Trump against him.
“I understand his feelings about it because this has been a big distraction for him,” Sessions said. “I talked to experts in the Department of Justice . . . I’m confident I made the right decision, a decision that’s consistent for the rule of law. An attorney general who doesn’t follow the law isn’t very effective in leading the Department of Justice.”
Sessions pointed to his more than a decade of experience in the Justice Department as a prosecutor from Alabama and said he knows “the integrity that’s required of the attorney general.”
“I believe I made the right decision,” he reiterated.
Sessions also made clear that he has no intention of resigning and wants to continue implementing the Trump administration agenda, which includes cracking down on illegal immigration and targeting street gangs.
“I do believe we are making tremendous progress,” Sessions said. “I can feel the movement . . . We had a 25 percent increase in prosecution of criminals with guns just this last quarter.”
But, the attorney general said, he also understands he serves “at the pleasure of the president.”
“If he wants to make a change, he can certainly do so and I would be glad to yield in that circumstance, no doubt about it,” Sessions said. He said he had not spoken to Trump since his public criticism and there were no plans “on the calendar yet” to do so. But he said that he has made strides on issues he knows the president cares about, including illegal immigration.
“We share such a common interest there,” Sessions said.
Next week, the attorney general said, he will hold a news conference regarding “multiple” leak investigations being conducted by the Justice Department.
“I have not been happy with the past prosecutions and investigations of criminal leaks,” Sessions said.
The Obama administration conducted an unprecedented crackdown on leaks. The Justice Department prosecuted nine cases that involved leaks and whistleblowers, which compares with just three of all previous administrations.
Sessions’s conversation with Carlson was the attorney general’s first interview since Trump began attacking him in newspaper stories and tweets, saying that he was “disappointed” that Sessions had recused himself from the Russia investigation, calling Sessions “beleaguered” and tweeting that he was “VERY weak” on investigating Hillary Clinton’s crimes.
In recent days, Trump has talked with his advisers about replacing Sessions as attorney general and in his news conference Tuesday he did not say what the future would bring for Sessions.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “Time will tell. Time will tell.”
But conservative organizations, including Breitbart News, and Republican lawmakers have strongly come to the attorney general’s defense. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh criticized Trump’s “swipes” at Sessions and called Sessions a “by-the-book attorney general, a by-the-book legal mind.”
“I think Sessions deserves to be treated much more fairly. I mean, Jeff was there when no other senator was,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the longest currently serving Republican in the Senate, referring to Sessions’s early support of Trump during the presidential election.
The attorney general spoke to Carlson during a trip to El Salvador on Thursday to meet with Salvadoran Attorney General Douglas Meléndez and participate in briefings related to the MS-13 gang and issues of immigration, drugs and human trafficking. Salvadoran prosecutors charged 113 MS-13 gang members Thursday. The prosecution of MS-13 gang members, who are active in 40 states and the District of Columbia, is a high priority for Sessions.