The Slatest

Trump Wouldn’t Have Picked Sessions If He Had Known Sessions Would Recuse Himself on Russia

Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions after Sessions was sworn in as Attorney General in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, Feb. 9, 2017.

AFP/Getty Images

President Trump took a break from tweeting and not repealing and replacing Obamacare to sit down for an actual interview with the New York Times Wednesday. In the freewheeling exchange the president sounded exasperated at times as he ranted about the treachery of so-called allies and perceived foes alike. Here’s what the president had to say.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Trump was particularly critical of one of his earliest supporters, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. It’s a critique and source of frustration the president has articulated before, but Trump went further in his rebuke of Sessions this time:

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“Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Mr. Trump said… “Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” he added. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”

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Trump’s timeline, of course, fudges the fact that, on the face of it, there was no reason for Sessions to recuse himself from a Russia investigation that was just warming up before he testified during his confirmation hearings. Sessions’ omission of meetings with the Russian amabassador dragged him into net of the Senate intel investigation, ultimately forcing the former Alabama senator to recuse himself, but none of that took place until the wheels of confirmation were already at full speed.

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For the first time, Trump expressed dissatisfaction with his Attorney General for his, at best sloppy, at worst sneaky, answers on his Russian contacts. “Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers,” the president said. “He gave some answers that were simple questions and should have been simple answers, but they weren’t.” For the first time, the White House didn’t paint Sessions’ testimony as Democrats doing semantic somersaults to conjure Russian ghosts—Trump said he should have done better.

Former FBI Director James Comey

Trump seems to have settled on a new line of attack when it comes to Comey and his damning testimony about the former FBI Director’s interactions with the president. Here’s the gist of the argument: It was Comey who tried to lean on the president—not the other way around—to keep his job by threatening to use the influence of his office to damage the president. Seriously.

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Mr. Trump recalled that a little more than two weeks before his inauguration, Mr. Comey and other intelligence officials briefed him at Trump Tower on Russian meddling. Mr. Comey afterward pulled Mr. Trump aside and told him about a dossier that had been assembled by a former British spy filled with salacious allegations against the incoming president, including supposed sexual escapades in Moscow. The F.B.I. has not corroborated the most sensational assertions in the dossier. In the interview, Mr. Trump said he believed Mr. Comey told him about the dossier to implicitly make clear he had something to hold over the president. “In my opinion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there,” Mr. Trump said. As leverage? “Yeah, I think so,’’ Mr. Trump said. “In retrospect.”

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller

Trump did not appear to be disposed to firing Robert Mueller, at the moment, but offered a warning if the investigation delved too deeply into his personal finances.

Mr. Trump said Mr. Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of interest and warned investigators against delving into matters too far afield from Russia. Mr. Trump never said he would order the Justice Department to fire Mr. Mueller, nor would he outline circumstances under which he might do so. But he left open the possibility as he expressed deep grievance over an investigation that has taken a political toll in the six months since he took office.

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Asked if Mr. Mueller’s investigation would cross a red line if it expanded to look at his family’s finances beyond any relationship to Russia, Mr. Trump said, “I would say yes.” He would not say what he would do about it. “I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.”

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Classic Trump: Look, let’s stay focused on Russia.

Whether the President, Himself, Is Under Investigation

“I don’t think we’re under investigation,” Trump said. “I’m not under investigation. For what? I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Trump’s Second, Previously Undisclosed Encounter with Putin at the G-20

It was just a dessert, not a meeting, just some cake or something and some idle chatter about the new, great euphemism of this whole Russia escapade—“adoption.” Just two world leaders talking about “adoption”; nothing to see here.

“The meal was going toward dessert,” he said. “I went down just to say hello to Melania, and while I was there I said hello to Putin. Really, pleasantries more than anything else. It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes. Just talked about things. Actually, it was very interesting, we talked about adoption.”… Mr. Trump acknowledged that it was “interesting” that adoptions came up since his son, Donald Trump Jr., said that was the topic of a meeting he had with several Russians with ties to the Kremlin during last year’s campaign.

So that’s all the president of the United States had to say on a Wednesday to the paper of record in the country he governs. Good thing he’s not under investigation because if he were, admitting you wanted an Attorney General who could give you cover on the Russia investigation and issuing veiled threats to the special counsel would probably be against the advice of counsel.

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