Trump Asked Sessions To Reverse His Recusal From The Russian Inquiry

May 30, 2018
Originally published on May 30, 2018 11:56 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump said just yesterday he needed to focus less of his energy on the Russia investigation. He does not seem to be taking his own advice. This morning on Twitter, Trump has been responding to a New York Times story reporting that he berated Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year over his recusal from the Russia investigation. The president repeated again this morning that he wishes he had chosen a different attorney general. NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe is with us. Hi, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: I just have to keep reminding myself that we have a president of the United States openly criticizing his own attorney general, which is not normal. But can you just tell us what more we are learning about this relationship in recent days?

RASCOE: We learned President Trump had asked Sessions to basically un-recuse himself because he wanted someone over the Russia investigation who he felt he could trust. This happened back in March 2017. So this was a while back. It was in Florida at Trump's private club, Mar a Lago. And at this time, this was shortly after Sessions had recused himself because he was facing pressure over a meeting with the Russian ambassador during the campaign and not necessarily revealing that when he was first asked about it. And Trump has been mad about this recusal ever since. He's repeatedly made clear that he is not happy with Sessions for taking this step. Until now it hadn't been reported that he had basically berated Sessions in this incident and actually asked him to kind of reverse his position. And the significance of it is that Mueller is now looking into this issue, according to The New York Times, in addition to the firing of Comey as kind of a possible obstruction of justice.

GREENE: Why didn't the president fire Sessions at any point over this time if he's so unhappy?

RASCOE: It would seem that there is a concern that there would be a huge backlash from Republicans. They have made it clear that firing Sessions would be kind of a red line, even for the Republicans in Congress who support him or who support President Trump. And then there's also the question of who would replace Sessions or who would want to take on this position, which is going to basically put a bull's-eye on you, and could this person get confirmed in the Senate. So that's probably why the president has held back, even though he's clearly, (laughter), very not pleased with Sessions. But Sessions has also been very effective of being tough on crime and tough on immigration.

GREENE: Let me just ask you. I want to play a little tape from Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy, who is now defending the FBI. And this is over the case of this whole question of whether an FBI informant was a spy, as President Trump has suggested. This is what the Republican congressman said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TREY GOWDY: I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump.

GREENE: Ayesha, why is that significant?

RASCOE: Because this undercuts the president's argument that he was making just last night at this rally in Nashville that his campaign was infiltrated and that this is a huge scandal that the FBI was basically spying on his campaign for political reasons. And so...

GREENE: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe. We'll have to leave it there. Ayesha, thanks for reporting. We appreciate it.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.