Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to say whether he'd resign — or do anything at all — if Trump fires special counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to say on Wednesday what he would do if Trump fires Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein or attempts to remove special counsel Robert Mueller.
Sessions’ remarks, which came during a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, indicate that he is backing down from an ultimatum he reportedly issued the White House recently, when he threatened to resign in protest if Trump fires Rosenstein.
Rosenstein is overseeing Mueller’s investigation since Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, meaning that he is the only person in the Justice Department with the power to directly fire Mueller and disband the special counsel’s investigation.
Despite reaffirming his support for Rosenstein on Wednesday and telling the Senate subcommittee that he has “confidence” in his deputy AG, Sessions refused to answer when asked whether he would resign if Trump “improperly fired” either Rosenstein or Mueller.
“That calls for a speculative answer,” he told ranking committee member Patrick Leahy (D-VT). “I just am not able to do that.”
Sessions’ unwillingness to uphold the ultimatum he reportedly issued the White House calls into question whether his resignation threat may have actually been a self-serving PR stunt aimed at bolstering public perceptions of his integrity, rather than a genuine warning motivated by his convictions.
After all, someone leaked the story about his reported ultimatum to the press, leading some to believe that Sessions was standing up to Trump’s lawlessness. Yet, when asked to publicly commit to it, he refused.
As Leahy pointed out, Sessions’ refusal to say what — if anything — he would do if faced with the firing of Rosenstein or Mueller is particularly troubling in light of Trump’s ongoing attempts to undermine the Russia investigation and discredit those in charge of it, including Rosenstein.
“You’re at the helm of a Justice Department under siege,” Leahy said. “We’re in total agreement and care deeply about the integrity of the Justice Department. I worry that the walls intended to protect the integrity of the department … are at the risk of crumbling.”
Still, Sessions would not commit to standing up to Trump and defending the integrity of the Justice Department.
During the same hearing on Wednesday, Sessions also refused to say whether Trump or anyone else in the White House has mentioned the possibility of issuing a pardon to Trump’s personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen.
However, in response to questions about Trump’s pardons of former Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby and former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, Sessions defended Trump’s right to pardon anyone he chooses — even if he does so without consulting the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the Justice Department.
When asked if it would be an abuse of power for Trump to pardon someone without approval from the pardon attorney, Sessions said, “It’s clearly not.”
That, too, seems like an answer that requires speculation — but this time, Sessions didn’t hesitate to jump in with his response.