Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered to resign at one point in recent months after his relationship with President Trump grew increasingly tense, according to two people close to the White House.
The strain between the two began after Sessions recused himself in March from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Sessions announced his recusal shortly after he became attorney general and a day after The Washington Post revealed that he had twice met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign and did not disclose that fact to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his January confirmation hearing.
Trump learned of the attorney general’s decision shortly before Sessions announced it at a news conference. The president’s anger has lingered for months, according to the people close to the White House. They said that Trump cites Sessions’s recusal as a factor that prompted the decision last month by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to oversee the expanding Russian investigation.
Trump has also grown frustrated with the way his travel ban has been stalled in federal courts, the people added.
It is unclear when Sessions offered to resign, and Trump refused the offer. The moment was brief and Sessions made the suggestion after weeks of Trump’s disgruntlement and tense private meetings, according to the two people close to the White House who requested anonymity to speak candidly. Trump made clear to Sessions that although he did not like Sessions’s decision to recuse himself, he still had faith in his attorney general, these people said.
Sessions’s offer to resign was first reported by ABC News. Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores, who was with Sessions in Atlanta on Tuesday, declined to comment.
Still, tensions linger. On Monday, Trump derided the revised travel ban and criticized the Justice Department’s handling of the controversial case. In several tweets, Trump called the new ban “politically correct” and said the Justice Department should seek a “much tougher version.”
Before his recusal from the Russia investigation, Sessions and Trump had a strong bond. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump early in the presidential campaign last year when few Republican lawmakers supported the candidate.
Trump and Sessions share a similar worldview on key issues, including crime and immigration. In the Senate, Sessions crusaded for a hard-line stance on immigration and continues to speak about arresting and prosecuting illegal immigrants as he travels across the country.
Trump spoke of rising crime in his inaugural address and vowed to end the “American carnage.” Sessions has made a tough crackdown on crime his top priority, reversing the Obama administration’s charging policy and directing his federal prosecutors to pursue the most severe penalties possible — including mandatory minimum sentences — in a step toward a return to the war on drugs of the 1980s and 1990s.