In an interview with the New York Times released Wednesday evening—with remarks described as "insane" and "unbelievable"—President Donald Trump openly admits he would not have appointed Jeff Sessions, a loyal campaign surrogate, to be his attorney general if he'd known Sessions would ultimately recuse himself on matters related to Russia and alleged election interference. The embattled U.S. president also had a message for the special prosecutor now conducting the probe, warning Robert Mueller III to steer clear of Trump family financial dealings.
"Sessions should have never recused himself," Trump told the Times, "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."
Such a recusal, continued Trump, "Frankly I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, 'Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.' It’s extremely unfair — and that's a mild word — to the president."
Also in the interview, Trump took what many construed as a direct threat against the work of Special Prosecutor Mueller, now conducting an independent probe into last year's election, including possible collusion between meddling foreign agents and members of Trump's campaign staff. As the Associated Press notes, Trump "appeared to threaten Mueller, suggesting he had damaging information on the former FBI director."
This may be the most remarkable moment: Trump leaves open the possibility of removing Bob Mueller as special counsel https://t.co/Ekn6GVG7wp
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) July 20, 2017
According to the Times' reporting,
Mr. Trump said Mr. Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of interest and warned investigators against delving into matters too far afield from Russia. Mr. Trump never said he would order the Justice Department to fire Mr. Mueller, nor would he outline circumstances under which he might do so. But he left open the possibility as he expressed deep grievance over an investigation that has taken a political toll in the six months since he took office.
Asked if Mr. Mueller's investigation would cross a red line if it expanded to look at his family's finances beyond any relationship to Russia, Mr. Trump said, "I would say yes." He would not say what he would do about it. "I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia."
In a tweet subsequent to their publication, Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior advisor to President Obama, characterized Trump's remarks as an "insane rant masquerading as an interview." Many legal analysts, former DOJ employees, and political observers said the comments about Sessions put the Attorney General in a tremendously difficult spot.
The President today effectively asked Sessions for his resignation. Will he resign or insist on being fired? https://t.co/bShMQJtrBI
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) July 20, 2017
Just when you think your capacity for surprise has diminished. How can Sessions continue to serve? https://t.co/YAEMbGCSi5
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) July 19, 2017
Why would Trump care whether Sessions recused himself or not unless he wanted him to quash the investigation? Unbelievable thing to admit.
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) July 20, 2017