WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/CBSNews/AP) — President Donald Trump has renewed his attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, calling the attorney general’s handling of Republican allegations that the FBI abused its surveillance power during the early stages of the Republican investigation “disgraceful.”
On Tuesday, Sessions announced the Justice Department’s inspector general will look into whether the DOJ and FBI wrongly obtained a warrant to monitor former Trump campaign official Carter Page – an issue raised with the release of a controversial GOP memo earlier this month.
“Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc.,” the president tweeted Wednesday morning.
He then questioned whether the inspector general was a holdover from the Obama era (he is — Michael E. Horowitz was sworn in as inspector general for the Justice Department in 2012) and later probed why Sessions would not “use Justice Department lawyers” instead.
“DISGRACEFUL!” the president added.
Sessions, who rarely responds publicly to criticism from his boss, didn’t keep quiet this time and said the Justice Department he leads had acted appropriately.
“As long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution,” Sessions said.
Sessions referred the allegations to the inspector general in response to pressure from congressional Republicans who, like Trump, have fumed about what they believe to be bias within the FBI.
The office has acknowledged receiving Sessions’ request but hasn’t said it’s investigating.
But that step by Sessions apparently was not enough to satisfy Trump, who has spent the past year berating the former Alabama senator who was the first member of the Senate to endorse Trump’s White House candidacy.
Trump is angry that Sessions referred the allegations of Justice Department employee misconduct to the inspector general, but that’s exactly what that office is charged with doing. Its lawyers are part of the department and, contrary to Trump’s claims, can and often do refer matters for prosecution.
The office has been working on a separate review of the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation under former Director James Comey, but that report is not late and is expected to be released around March or April.
The president’s reaction differed from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ initial response. She was asked Tuesday about the president’s reaction to Sessions’ announcement of the investigation into FISA abuses.
Sanders noted that it was an issue Mr. Trump “clearly had frustration over, so I would imagine he certainly supports the decision to look into what we feel to be some wrongdoing.” She added, “I think that’s the role of the Department of Justice, and we’re glad that they’re fulfilling that job.”
This is the latest of Trump’s attacks on Sessions, who continues to faithfully execute the president’s agenda. A day earlier, for example, Sessions said his Justice Department was working toward banning rapid-fire bump stock devices at Trump’s urging, even though the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had previously said it was powerless to do so without action from Congress.
Sessions has been largely silent in the face of Trump’s extraordinary insults, which critics say has strained department morale and made Sessions seem eager to appease his boss at risk of dangerously politicizing the Justice Department. A spokeswoman declined to comment Wednesday.
The two bonded early in Trump’s campaign over their shared priorities of fighting urban crime and illegal immigration.
But their relationship was strained by Sessions’ decision to step aside from the Russia probe after facing questions about his own contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. during the campaign. Trump blames that move for the eventual appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to oversee the sprawling investigation.
Sessions has repeatedly refuted reports that his departure from the Justice Department might be imminent, given the president’s critiques, most recently telling lawmakers on Capitol Hill he has conducted himself “honorably and in a manner consistent with the high standards and responsibilities of the Office of Attorney General.”
“I spent 15 years in that department, I love that department, I honor that department and will do my best to be your attorney general,” Sessions emotionally exclaimed to the House Judiciary Committee in November.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
CBS News’ Andy Triay and Paula Reid contributed to this report. | Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.