As President Donald Trump continued to publicly rebuke Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, several Republican senators announced their public support for the embattled Justice Department head.
Trump upbraided Sessions for the second straight morning on Twitter ― decrying the attorney general’s “weak position” in failing to investigate Hillary Clinton or intelligence leakers ― and a week after expressing regret at nominating him in the first place.u
That was all too much for Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).
Shelby described Sessions on Twitter as “a man of integrity, loyalty, and extraordinary character” and offered his “deep respect and unwavering support.”
Tillis said in a statement that Sessions “demonstrated good judgement” by recusing himself from the Russia investigation, and also praised the attorney general’s performance, saying his leadership at the Justice Department is “needed now more than ever.”
“President Trump’s tweet today suggesting Attorney General Sessions pursue prosecution of a former political rival is highly inappropriate,” Graham said in a statement, adding that “prosecutorial decisions should be based on applying facts to the law without hint of political motivation.”
Trump’s latest public rebuke Tuesday morning followed up on Monday’s tweets in which the president decried Sessions for not investigating “Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations.” The president also described the attorney general’s position as “beleaguered.”
In now attacking Sessions for failing to investigate Clinton, Trump is contradicting his own previous position.
Not long after the election, The New York Times reported that Trump was “no longer interested in pursuing Mrs. Clinton” in an effort to “heal the wounds of a divisive campaign.”
“I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t,” Trump said during the November interview with the Times. “She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways, and I am not looking to hurt them at all. The campaign was vicious.”
Amid the repeated jabs at Sessions, several media reports this week also indicated that the president has discussed with aides the possibility of replacing his attorney general.
Last week, Trump told The New York Times that he “would have picked somebody else” had he known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
While the connection between Sessions’ recusal and the ongoing Russian investigation appears clear for Trump, the Republican senators supporting Sessions now stopped short of offering a full-throttled defense of the Russian investigation being led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller.
And despite their public defense of the attorney general, the impact of these senators’ stances on other key Republican leaders is unclear. It’s also uncertain as to whether any of these statements will cause Trump to take pause.
For his part, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) took a much more circumspect tone at a weekly news conference on Tuesday, saying that the president “determines who is hired and fired in the executive branch. That’s his prerogative.”
UPDATE: July 26 ― Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Wednesday added his voice to the chorus defending Sessions, calling him “honest & transparent” and praising his “fairness & kindness.”