Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has been investigating a period of time last summer when President Trump seemed determined to drive Attorney General Jeff Sessions from his job, according to people familiar with the matter who said that a key area of interest for the inquiry is whether those efforts were part of a months-long pattern of attempted obstruction of justice.
In recent months, Mueller’s team has questioned witnesses in detail about Trump’s private comments and state of mind in late July and early August of last year, around the time he issued a series of tweets belittling his “beleaguered” attorney general, these people said. The thrust of the questions was to determine whether the president’s goal was to oust Sessions in order to pick a replacement who would exercise control over the investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump associates during the 2016 election, these people said.
The issue of Sessions’s tortured relationship with the president reared up again Wednesday morning when the president tweeted: “Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. … Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!”
Sessions usually opts not to respond to such criticism, but in this case he did. Trump’s criticism faulted the attorney general for not more aggressively pursuing claims that the FBI and Justice Department may have misled a foreign surveillance court on a politically sensitive case in the waning days of the Obama administration. Sessions insisted in his statement that he had reacted appropriately by referring the matter to the department’s inspector general for a possible review of how the surveillance case was handled.
“As long as I am the Attorney General, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this Department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution,’’ Sessions said in the statement.
Witnesses have been questioned repeatedly about a period when Trump railed publicly and privately against his attorney general.