President Trump reportedly weighed replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Scott Pruitt as recently as this week, even as scandals grow around the embattled Environmental Protection Agency head.
Mr. Trump has long been frustrated with his attorney general because of his decision to recuse himself from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and Mr. Pruitt, who has had his own battles at the EPA, is rumored to be angling for Mr. Sessions’ job.
“[Mr. Trump] was 100 percent still trying to protect Pruitt because Pruitt is his fill-in for Sessions,” a source familiar with the situation told CNN, which first broke the story.
Mr. Sessions recused himself last March from the Justice Department’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election and possible ties to the Trump campaign. Following the recusal, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mr. Mueller to lead the probe.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly complained about Mr. Sessions’ decision, calling it “very unfair” and saying he would have picked someone else for attorney general had he known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself.
But Mr. Sessions has repeatedly maintained that recusal was the right thing to do, saying “career people” in the department advised him to do so.
“I think that’s what I had to do,” he said last month at a Federalist Society gathering. “There is a specific regulation that says if you participate in a campaign — it explicitly says that — you cannot investigate the campaign of which you were a part. Pretty reasonable, I think.”
The president’s advisers have blocked his attempt to replace Mr. Sessions by convincing him that doing so would be damaging politically because the attorney general remains popular among conservatives, CNN reported.
Mr. Pruitt, meanwhile, appears to remain in Trump’s good graces despite increasing pressure — including calls from two House Republicans — to resign. Those calls came after it was disclosed that he rented a $50-per-night condo from the wife of a prominent oil industry lobbyist and for his use of first-class flights and private, taxpayer-funded security detail for personal family vacations.
In an interview Wednesday with The Washington Times , Mr. Pruitt called the allegations “noise” and a “distraction.”
When asked by reporters Thursday if he has confidence in the EPA chief, Mr. Trump responded, “I do.”
CNN reported that the president’s chief of staff, John Kelly, is advocating firing Mr. Pruitt and has even asked him if more revelations could be made public.
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at email@example.com.
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