Republicans Jump To Sessions’ Defense After Week Of Trump Criticism

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Jeff Sessions has had a tough week at work, thanks to an onslaught of attacks from his boss, President Donald Trump.

But the “beleaguered” — in Trump’s words — attorney general got an assist on Tuesday from some of his former colleagues in the House of Representatives and Senate, where Sessions served for nearly two decades before joining the Trump administration.

Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) spoke out against the President’s dispute with Sessions on Twitter and during an interview on Fox News Tuesday, saying he has a “lot of respect” for Sessions, who he’s worked with for 20 years. Sessions also represented Alabama when he was in the Senate.

“I know him well. He’s a man of integrity, purpose and has a lot of respect from his colleagues and also the legal profession,” Shelby said on Fox, adding that the attorney general would be “hard to replace.” Shelby hopes Sessions will stay on despite the escalating attacks from Trump.

Since last week, the President has publicly criticized Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into whether Russia meddled in the 2016 election, telling the New York Times he wouldn’t have hired Sessions if he had known he was going to duck out of the probe. Sessions then responded to Trump’s comments on Thursday and said he would serve in his role as attorney general for as long as was “appropriate.”

On both Monday and Tuesday morning, the President took to Twitter to criticize Sessions again for being “weak” and his newly hired Communicators Director Anthony Scaramucci said Tuesday that Trump “probably” wants to push the attorney general out.

Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mike Lee (R-UT) were among many who jumped to the defense of Sessions’ character against Trump’s cryptic tweets, with Portman saying he’s a man of “deep conviction” who has always had “the best interests of our country at heart.”

Ahead of the start of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to consider pending nominations Tuesday, Lee said that despite their differing opinions on things like Sessions’ asset forfeiture policy, Sessions is a man of “integrity” who is leading the Department of Justice in “what I regard to be a positive direction.”

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) made similar comments Tuesday, releasing a statement on Twitter defending Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into the Russian government meddling in the 2016 election because he worked for the Trump campaign.

“The attorney general’s recusal was ultimately made in the best interests of the Department of Justice and the country,” he said. “Attorney General Sessions’ leadership is needed now more than ever.”

Several Republicans have defended the former senator for recusing himself from the Russia probe, which has been the basis of the President’s assaults against Sessions. In an interview with The New York Times last week, Trump said he wouldn’t have hired Sessions as head of the Department of Justice had he known Sessions would duck out of the investigation.

The No. 2 Senate Republican John Cornyn (R-TX) was one of Sessions’ staunchest supporters. Appearing on CNN Tuesday morning, Cornyn called his former colleague a “good and honorable man” and said that by recusing himself he helped “restore the credibility” of the Department of Justice and the FBI, which is something he thinks was “sorely needed after the last administration.”

“I happen to agree with him that he did, having participated in the campaign like he did, I think in order to maintain the impression of impartiality, which is so important to building public confidence, that I think Jeff Sessions did the right thing,” Cornyn added.

In the lower chamber of Congress, a number of representatives came to Sessions’ aid, while some criticized the President for how he has handled his criticism of the attorney general. Two mornings in a row, the President tweeted pointed attacks at Sessions, calling him “beleaguered” and “weak” for not investigating his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton’s “crimes.”

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who chairs the House Oversight Committee, was supportive of Sessions’ recusal during a Fox News interview Tuesday. However, he said he understood the President’s frustrations with the attorney general for his “failure to recall some meetings.”

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) told Real Clear Politics that the President’s complaints would have been “better conveyed in a private conversation.”

Rep. Adam Kinsinger (R-IL) echoed that sentiment, questioning why the President didn’t just call a meeting to air his grievances with Sessions.

Sessions is one of the President’s most loyal supporters. He was one of the first member of Congress to stand behind Trump when he launched his campaign.

Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) said he thinks the President’s critiques of his attorney general are “mistaken,” telling CNN that “if there’s any person on Capitol Hill that has been loyal to the President of the United States, it’s Jeff Sessions.”

“You get the loyalty you give in life. … He gave up his Senate post to take on this post. He was out there as an advocate for then candidate Trump at a time nobody else was,” Sanford said. “We have to be loyal to ideas we believe in and recognize the fact as human beings, we are going to have a difference in the way we approach those ideas.”

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) appeared on CNN Tuesday morning as well, defending the attorney general for being “loyal” and “capable.” But Stewart also said it may be in the public’s best interest to not pay “a whole lot of attention” to Trump’s tweets “because it’s not policy.”

And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who was floated as a potential replacement for Sessions, according to the Washington Post, denied the claims that he could replace the attorney general, telling the Post he is “deeply gratified that we have a principled conservative like Jeff Sessions serving as attorney general.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.
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