Sessions said it was an “honor” to serve as attorney general and that his team “wholeheartedly” shares the priorities of the Trump administration. He was at a press conference at the Justice Department on Thursday to discuss the takedown of the “dark market” site AlphaBay.
“We love this job, we love this department,” Sessions said. He added that he would continue to serve as attorney general “so as long as that is appropriate.”
Trump told The New York Times on Wednesday that he wouldn’t have chosen Sessions for the post if he had known Sessions was going to recuse himself from the FBI’s probe into Russian election meddling. Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation following revelations about his conversations last year with the Russian ambassador.
“If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president,” Trump told the Times.
Sources told CNN and the Times that Sessions offered to resign earlier this year. According to ABC, Trump reportedly went “ballistic” after he found out Sessions was recusing himself. In June, White House press secretary Sean Spicer declined to say if Trump still had confidence in the attorney general.
However, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders affirmed later on Thursday that Trump “has confidence” in Sessions.
Trump also criticized Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in the Times interview, appearing to know very little about the man he nominated to take over the critical No. 2 role in the Justice Department. Trump complained that Rosenstein is from Baltimore and said there are “very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any.” Rosenstein, in fact, is originally from Philadelphia, and has lived in the D.C. suburb of Bethesda, Maryland, for years.
Before Trump’s interview came out on Wednesday, Rosenstein told reporters that he likes his job and is “very happy” to be at the Justice Department. He declined to answer a question about the president’s remarks on Thursday.
In his interview with the Times, Trump also would not rule out firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is heading the independent Russia investigation. Trump could not fire Mueller directly, but could order Rosenstein to do so, at which point the deputy attorney general would be forced to make a choice between resigning or carrying out the president’s order.
Trump’s criticism of Sessions, Rosenstein, and Mueller place all of them in precarious positions. Trump has admitted that he was thinking about the Russia probe when he fired former FBI Director James Comey. And former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired shortly after she warned the White House about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s untruthfulness about his ties to Russia.
This story has been updated with Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ statement that Trump has confidence in Sessions.