President Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind his recusal from the Russia investigation in the early days Trump’s presidency, the New York Times reported Tuesday. Trump’s explicit request to his attorney general, who was also one of his earliest supporters, is part of the larger obstruction of justice case being amassed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team.
The previously unreported request came in March 2017, just weeks in to the Trump presidency, during a dinner meeting at Mar-a-Lago. Trump, the Times reports, had essentially frozen Sessions out—and largely continues to—after he announced his recusal from the Russia investigation when it was discovered he failed to disclose during his confirmation hearing several contacts with Russian representatives during the 2016 campaign. At the Florida resort, “Trump, who had told aides that he needed a loyalist overseeing the inquiry, berated Mr. Sessions and told him he should reverse his decision, an unusual and potentially inappropriate request,” according to the Times. Sessions refused to reverse his decision, which was made on the advice of the Justice Department’s lawyers.
While pressure was mounting over Sessions’ confirmation omissions, Trump deployed White House counsel Donald McGahn to try to keep Sessions on the job, one the president deemed critical to keeping a handle on the growing investigation into Russian election meddling. “The special counsel’s interest demonstrates Mr. Sessions’s overlooked role as a key witness in the investigation into whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct the inquiry itself,” according to the Times. “It also suggests that the obstruction investigation is broader than it is widely understood to be—encompassing not only the president’s interactions with and firing of the former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, but also his relationship with Mr. Sessions.”
Trump’s new lead lawyer on Russia-related matters, Rudolph Giuliani, told the Times he had not discussed Sessions’ recusal with the president, “but that a request that Mr. Sessions reassert control over the Russia investigation would be within the bounds of the president’s authority.” “Unrecuse’ doesn’t say, ‘Bury the investigation,’” Giuliani said. “It says on the face of it: Take responsibility for it and handle it correctly.”