Sessions under fire from White House, ex-Senate colleagues defend his 'loyalty'

FILE - In this July 21, 2017 file photo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks in Philadelphia. President Donald Trump took a new swipe at on Monday, July 24, 2017, referring to him in a tweet as “beleaguered” and wondering why Sessions isn’t digging into Hillary Clinton’s alleged contacts with Russia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday that he has not yet made a decision whether or not to fire Attorney General and long-time loyalist Jeff Sessions and he remains "disappointed" in his selection to lead the Department of Justice.

"I told you before, I'm very disappointed with the attorney general, but we will see what happens," Trump said when asked about possibly firing Sessions. "Time will tell. Time will tell."

Earlier in the day, the new White House communications director indicated that Trump would soon reach a decision on whether to keep Sessions on his team noting "there's obviously an issue in the relationship."

Anthony Scaramucci told reporters, "We'll get to a resolution shortly," after reporters asked about the increasingly public rift between Trump and Sessions.

Trump has doubled down on his previous criticism of his attorney general for recusing himself from the Russia investigation in recent days and added new grievances to the list.

At the White House, Trump emphasized that the attorney general needs to be "much tougher on the leaks from intelligence agencies." This was one of the complaints Trump cited prior to firing James Comey as head of the FBI.

The president also tweeted his disappointment that Sessions "has taken a VERY weak position" in investigating Hillary Clinton for using a private email server and destroying 33,000 emails. Sessions has also failed to look into "Crooked Hillary's crimes & Russia relations," the president said.

The tweet-storm coincided with anonymously sourced reports from inside the White House, claiming that Trump is actively looking for a replacement to head the Justice Department. Advisers have reportedly floated a few names including former Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and long-time Trump supporter and former New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani.

Both men were dismissive when press confronted them about possibly taking the position.

Review the complete timeline of events surrounding Attorney General Sessions:

Sen. Cruz would not comment on the matter when asked on Tuesday. He issued a statement earlier in the week rejecting the "false" media reports suggesting he was being considered for the position.

"I was proud to vote to confirm Jeff and to vigorously defend his confirmation," Cruz said. "I'm deeply gratified that we have a principled conservative like Jeff Sessions serving as Attorney General."

Rudy Giuliani was caught on camera by TMZ saying he wouldn't take the job because "I'm not a candidate for the position" and "the position's not open."

Trump fueled the rumors that he was considering firing his attorney general after a New York Times interview last week. He said Sessions decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation was "extremely unfair."

"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," the president said.

Sessions backed away from all things Russia-related on March 2 stating that his involvement in the 2016 Trump campaign could jeopardize his objectivity. Sessions was also under pressure to recuse himself after providing incomplete testimony during his Senate confirmation, not disclosing contact he had with Russian government figures during the campaign.

Republican and even Democratic senators have been outspoken in recent days about the way the president has treated their former colleague.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) issued a statement over social media defending the former Alabama senator as someone who "above [all] else ... believes in the rule of law."

Graham attacked Trump's earlier statement "suggesting Attorney General Sessions pursue prosecution of a former political rival" as "highly inappropriate."

On the campaign trail, Trump and his surrogates regularly led crowds in chants of "lock her up," promising jail time for Hillary Clinton if he won the presidency. Trump also memorably said he would direct his attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to reopen the Clinton email investigation.

Other Republicans were focused on Trump's criticism of Sessions for stepping away from the Russia investigation after lawyers at the Department of Justice encouraged him to do so.

“I think the attorney general ... made the right decision to recuse himself from the Russia matter," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters on Tuesday.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who sits on the Judiciary Committee noted that even though he doesn't think Sessions had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, it was still a wise decision.

"I think Sen. Sessions is doing a great job," Tillis told Sinclair Broadcast Group. "I think he showed good judgment by recusing himself – and he didn't really have to – and I look forward to him continuing to serve."

Democrats who were highly critical of Sessions during his confirmation process were compelled to come to his aide.

"I really think Donald Trump should cease and desist," said Sen. Diane Feinstein (Calif.), the ranking Democratic on the Judiciary Committee. "I happen to be a Democrat, but I worked with Sessions for twenty years on the committee. We don't treat people this way."

During his confirmation hearing, Feinstein and other Democrats relentlessly questioned Sessions over two days of marathon hearings. In the end, only one Democrat voted to confirm Sessions.

Sessions also took heat from former colleagues when he returned to Capitol Hill last month to discuss the reasons behind his recusal and clear the record on his contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, defended also stepped in to defend his former colleague's character, saying Sessions "is a man of integrity, loyalty, and extraordinary character" emphasizing that "every administration needs that."

In an interview with Fox News, Shelby explained that while the president has the right to fire Sessions, "it would not be well-received on Capitol Hill."

Sessions' loyalty to the president has been clear to everyone in the Senate who recalls Sessions as the first, and for a long time the only member to endorse Donald Trump for president.

Trump himself has underscored the importance of loyalty from those who work for him. In the middle of a speech to the Boy Scouts of America, the president took a moment to make the side comment, "we could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that."

Sen. Feinstein laid into Trump for turning against Sessions for "selfish reasons."

"The attorney general was nothing but loyal to Donald Trump," Feinstein said. "He took an oath of office to represent the Constitution, the law and the people as attorney general. A month after he was appointed he found he should recuse himself, and he did that. And it was the right thing to do."

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