WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump says he never would have appointed Mr Jeff Sessions as Attorney-General had he known he would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged Mr Trump's 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' 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," said Mr Trump in an interview with The New York Times. "If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, 'Thanks, Jeff, but I'm not going to take you.' It's extremely unfair - and that's a mild word - to the President."
The remarks are a dramatic public scolding of the man holding a top Cabinet post. They also suggest that Mr Trump hoped Mr Sessions could play a role in managing a probe that he has called a "witch hunt" and suggested is a threat to the legitimacy of his presidency.
Mr Trump also faulted Mr Sessions for his testimony during Senate confirmation hearings, when Mr Sessions said he did not have "communications with the Russians", even though he met, at least twice, Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
"Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers," said Mr Trump. "He gave some answers that were simple questions and should have been simple answers, but they weren't."
Mr Sessions yesterday brushed off the sharp criticism, saying he loved his job and planned to continue serving. "We love this job, we love this department, and I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate," Mr Sessions said at a news conference announcing a cybercrime bust.
He was flanked by Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein and Acting Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Andrew McCabe, who were both also targeted by the President in the interview.
Mr Trump has accused Mr James Comey, the FBI director he fired in May, of trying to leverage a dossier of compromising material to keep his job.
And he also took on Mr Robert Mueller, the special counsel now leading the investigation into Russian meddling in last year's presidential election.
Mr Trump said Mr Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of interest, and warned investigators against delving into matters too far afield from Russia.
Describing a newly disclosed informal conversation he had had with Russia's President Vladimir Putin during a dinner of world leaders in Germany earlier this month, Mr Trump said they talked for about 15 minutes, mostly about "pleasantries".
He said his wife Melania was seated next to Mr Putin at the other end of a table filled with world leaders. "I went down just to say hello to Melania and, while I was there, I said hello to Putin. Really, pleasantries more than anything else. It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes. Just talked about things. Actually, it was very interesting, we talked about adoption."
Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday unanimously approved Mr Trump's nomination of Mr Christopher Wray as the new FBI director to replace Mr Comey.
All 20 members of the committee voted to approve Mr Wray, a white-collar crime lawyer and former assistant attorney-general under president George W. Bush, sending his nomination to the full Senate for a vote.
NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS