Attorney General-designate, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before...
Alex Brandon

Trump takes aim at a longtime ally, AG Jeff Sessions

In March, when the House Republicans' health care bill initially failed, White House aides told Politico that Donald Trump was largely unfazed. The president, the staffers said, was far more upset about Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 07/19/17 09:04PM
Trump lashes Sessions, Justice officials
In an interview with the New York Times yesterday, Trump made clear he hasn't let this go.

President Trump said on Wednesday that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision "very unfair to the president."

In a remarkable public break with one of his earliest political supporters, Mr. Trump complained that Mr. Sessions's decision ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel that should not have happened. "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," Mr. Trump said.

Let's back up for a minute. When Sessions took over as attorney general, the Justice Department was already pursuing a counter-espionage investigation into Russia's election attack. The probe included scrutiny of the Trump campaign and its interactions with Russian nationals, which created an obvious problem for Sessions: he not only played a role in the Trump campaign, he also had previously undisclosed conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Sessions' recusal, in other words, was a no-brainer.

But the president is nevertheless convinced the attorney general's decision was "very unfair" and "extremely unfair" to him. Based on what the Times has published, Trump didn't explain why he believes this, but figuring this out is a rather straightforward exercise.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but Trump apparently saw his attorney general as an ally who would "help" the White House on matters like the investigation into the Russia scandal. The only reason it'd be "unfair" to the president for Sessions to recuse himself is if Trump expected Sessions to steer the investigation in a way Trump liked.

And that's no small thing. In effect, the president is arguing that the attorney general should've overseen the probe in order to protect Trump from any embarrassments or consequences. Even now, months later, the president is fuming, in part because the Russia scandal is intensifying, and in part because his ostensible ally in the Justice Department isn't cooperating with a cover-up.

Nevertheless, as Rachel noted on last night's show, when a sitting president lashes out at a top member of his cabinet like this, it's usually the sort of thing that prompts a resignation.

Postscript: In early June, the White House was asked more than once if the president still has confidence in Jeff Sessions. There was no firm answer.