US Attorney General Jeff Sessions lashed back on Thursday at increasing pressure from President Donald Trump, declaring the Department of Justice would not bow to politics.
President Donald Trump drew a sharp rebuttal from his attorney general on Thursday after he gave a scathing assessment of Jeff Sessions as being unable to take control of the Justice Department.
Trump intensified his criticism of the Justice Department in a Fox News interview aired on Thursday as the White House grappled to respond to Tuesday's conviction of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on multiple fraud counts and guilty plea byTrump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, that implicated the president.
The Republican president reprised a litany of complaints about the Justice Department and the FBI, attacking both without providing evidence they had treated him and his supporters unfairly.
Trump also renewed his criticism of Sessions, blaming him for what he called corruption at the Justice Department.
"I put in an attorney general who never took control of the Justice Department," Trump said.
Sessions, in a rare rebuttal to Trump, issued a statement defending the integrity of his department.
"I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in," he said. "... While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations."
A new Reuters/Ipsos poll showed a slight drop in support among Republicans for Trump in the wake of the Manafort conviction and the Cohen plea.
The poll, conducted from Tuesday evening to Thursday, found that 78 percent of Republicans approved of Trump, down from 81 percent in a seven-day poll that ended on Monday.
Among Democrats, 11 percent said they approved of Trump, down from 15 percent in the earlier poll.
Overall, 37 percent of adults said they approved of Trump’s performance in office - down from 43 percent in the earlier poll.
Trump’s approval numbers have been relatively stable since he took office, when compared with his predecessors, and his popularity has not wavered much among Republicans.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 1,688 American adults, including 704 Democrats and 587 Republicans. It has a credibility interval, a measure of the poll’s precision, of 3 percentage points for the entire sample, 4 points for the Democrats and 5 points for the Republicans.
'A wounded puppy'
Sessions, a longtime US senator and early supporter of Trump's presidential bid, first drew Trump's ire when he recused himself in March 2017 from issues involving the 2016 White House race.
That removed him from oversight of the federal special counsel's investigation of Russia's role in the election and whether Trump's campaign worked with Moscow to influence the vote. Trump has repeatedly called the investigation a "witch hunt."
At the US Capitol, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is both close to Trump and a defender of Sessions, said he believedTrump would appoint a new attorney general but should wait until after Nov. 6 congressional elections.
A source close to Trump expressed doubt that Trump would fire Sessions before the elections but said Graham’s view that Sessions could go after the voting is a likely scenario.
“On a good day he (Sessions) is a wounded puppy,” the source said.
Trump told Fox that Sessions should not have recused himself from Russia-related matters.
"He took the job and then he said, 'I'm going to recuse myself,'" Trump said. "I said, 'What kind of a man is this?'"
However, Trump told "Fox & Friends" he would "stay uninvolved" in department matters.
Sessions was at the White House briefly on Thursday for a discussion on prison reform.
Senator John Cornyn, the upper chamber's second-ranking Republican, defended Sessions, a former Senate colleague, as an "honorable man" dedicated to the rule of law.
"I know this is a difficult position for him to be in but I think it would be bad for the country, it would be bad for the president, it would be bad for the Department of Justice for him to be forced out under these circumstances," Cornyn told reporters at the Capitol.
Trump told Fox News he respected Manafort for work he had done for prominent Republican politicians, adding that "some of the charges they threw against him, every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does."
The Fox News reporter who interviewed Trump said on Wednesday that Trump told her he would consider pardoning Manafort.
But in the interview that aired on Thursday, Trump never said he was considering the pardon.
The Washington Post reported on Thursday that Trump had discussed a potential pardon during Manafort's trial with his lawyers but had been persuaded to wait until after the November elections.
US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia hacked and leaked Democratic emails during the campaign as part of an effort to tilt the vote in Trump's favour. The Kremlin has denied the allegations, and Trump has denied any collusion.