Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, which President Trump has said nearly got him fired, after giving a speech to a conservative legal group.
“I think that’s what I had to do,” he said Saturday while taking questions at the 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 rule Mr. Sessions cited is 28 CFR 45.2, which notes that a Justice employee cannot participate in a case if “he has a personal or political relationship … with an elected official, candidate (whether or not successful) for elective public office, a political party, or a campaign organization.”
Mr. Sessions recused himself last March from the Department of Justice’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election and possible ties to the Trump campaign. He said Saturday that “career people” in the Justice Department advised him to recuse himself because he was the campaign’s national security adviser.
Following Mr. Session’s recusal, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed special counsel Robert Mueller to lead the investigation.
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.
Mr. Trump angrily told White House officials that he needed Mr. Sessions to protect him, according to a New York Times report from January. The same report said Mr. Trump ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to stop Mr. Sessions from recusing himself.
Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said in an interview last week on ABC’s “This Week” that Mr. Trump is still furious about Mr. Sessions’ recusal decision, calling it an “original sin.”
But Mr. Sessions said Saturday that he had signaled his recusal plan to the Trump administration during his confirmation hearings. “I told the confirmation committee I would consult with top officials in the department about any recusal issue,” he said.
Tensions between Mr. Sessions and Mr. Trump have heated up as Mr. Trump criticized his attorney general for using the Justice Department’s inspector general to probe possible FBI abuses on the Carter Page snooping case.
“Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!”
The Justice Department’s inspector general is Michael E. Horowitz, a 2012 appointee by President Obama, but he has worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
But Mr. Sessions immediately pushed back against the president’s comments, saying the Justice Department to initiated the process to ensure the investigation will be “fully and fairly acted upon if necessary.”
“As long as I am the attorney general,” Mr. Sessions said in a statement. “I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.”
Criticism from his boss is nothing new to Mr. Sessions. Mr. Trump has badgered him for not looking into Hillary Clinton’s emails using words like “very weak” and “beleaguered.” He also referred to his chief law enforcement officer as “an idiot” and “Mr. Magoo,” according to a report in The Washington Post.
Reports surfaced that Mr. Trump asked for Mr. Sessions’ resignation within his first six months of taking office, but later declined to accept the resignation letter.
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