WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday that he had no immediate plans to resign and would serve as long as is “appropriate,” despite President Donald Trump’s expression of regret about appointing him.
Trump, a day earlier in a New York Times interview, criticized Sessions for recusing himself from Russia-related investigations because, the president lamented, the decision led to the naming of special counsel Robert Mueller.
“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,” Trump said.
Sessions, one of Trump’s earliest campaign supporters, responded Thursday at an unrelated news conference.
“I have the honor of serving as attorney general. It’s something that goes beyond any thought I would have ever had for myself,” he said. “We love this job. We love this department. And I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not deny Trump regrets appointing Sessions, saying that his feelings were clear in The Times and that he is “disappointed” in the recusal. She said Trump had not spoken with Sessions in the past 24 hours — during which the Times interview was published — but still has confidence in him.
“Clearly, he has confidence in him or he would not be the attorney general,” Sanders said.
Trump on Thursday marked six months in office.
In early June, White House representatives would not affirm that the president had confidence in the attorney general, though Sanders finally said, “The president has confidence in all of his Cabinet.”
Before that, Sessions had offered to resign amid tension with the president over his recusal, several news outlets reported.
Sessions said he left probes related to last year’s presidential campaigns to his deputy — who appointed Mueller — because after checking with the law and ethics officials he determined his impartiality could be questioned because he was a prominent supporter of Trump.
Sessions announced his recusal shortly after The Washington Post reported he had met twice with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year but did not disclose those meetings at his Senate confirmation hearing.
Sanders was asked Thursday about Sessions resigning.
“I think you know this president well enough to know that if he wanted somebody to take an action, he would make that clear,” she responded.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) declined to comment but tweeted a warning to Republicans wrestling with health care legislation: “Two words to @SenateGOP when @realDonaldTrump says “I’ll have your back” when you vote to repeal health care: Jeff Sessions.”
Also on Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan 20-0 vote approved Trump’s nomination of Christopher Wray to be the new FBI director, sending it to the Senate floor for debate and a final vote.
Democrats on the committee lauded Wray, who headed the Department of Justice’s criminal division under former President George W. Bush, for promising during his confirmation hearing last week to rebuff political interference.
But Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Trump’s comments to The Times on Sessions, ousted FBI Director James Comey and Mueller “have shaken me and many people across America.”
Separately, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) defended Sessions and Mueller as honest people, saying he has confidence in the special counsel’s investigation. “I have advised the president to be more judicious with his comments,” Hatch said.
The president also told the Times that he believes Mueller, appointed by the Department of Justice to oversee Russia-related probes, runs an operation rife with potential conflicts of interest.
Sanders said Trump has no intention of firing Mueller.