President Donald Trump’s top aides have been trying to calm Trump down about Jeff Sessions, the attorney general Trump has been needling for nearly a week, according to officials cited in a New York Times report Wednesday.
Senior staff members, including White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon, and White House counsel Don McGahn reportedly tried to direct Trump’s attacks away Sessions, due to concerns of alienating the administration’s conservative base.
Sessions, who served in the US Senate for 20 years, is viewed as a champion of the modern-day conservative movement. Sessions and Bannon, both early supporters of Trump during his 2016 run, were even seen as the orchestrators of the campaign during its nascency, when it lacked a coherent message for its voters.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called Trump’s statements on Sessions “highly inappropriate” and said that it “says more about President Trump than it does Attorney General Sessions, and to me, it’s a sign of great weakness on the part of President Trump.”
“I hope Jeff Sessions doesn’t give in to this humiliation campaign,” Graham said in The Times.
Breitbart, a conservative news outlet once led by Bannon, published several articles highlighting “Trump’s own hypocrisy” and the likelihood “to fuel concerns from his base.”
Trump began his public campaign against Sessions following an interview with The Times, where he expressed his disappointment after Sessions recused himself from the ongoing Russia probe.
“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” Trump said. “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.”
Over several days, Trump then launched his assaults on Twitter, where he referred to Sessions as “beleaguered” and criticised his decisions at the Justice Department.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are Emails & DNC server) & Intel leakers,” Trump tweeted Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Trump was reported not to have spoken with Sessions since the initial interview with The Times.
“He’s obviously disappointed but also wants the attorney general to continue to focus on the things that the attorney general does,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, referring to Trump. “He wants him to lead the Department of Justice. He wants to do that strongly.”
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