WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG, WASHINGTON POST) - US Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed to ramp up criminal investigations into leaks of sensitive information, his first comments on the issue since a series of tweets from President Donald Trump taunting him for being too weak.
"Some people need to go to jail," Sessions said on Thursday (July 27) in an interview with Tucker Carlson of Fox News. "If we can make cases, they are going to jail."
Sessions said he has not been happy with previous efforts to prosecute and investigate leaks, adding that the Justice Department during his short tenure so far is already increasing that number. He said he plans to hold a press conference next week on the issue.
"The President has every right to ask the Department of Justice to be more aggressive in that, and we intend to," Mr Sessions said.
The turmoil between Mr Trump and Mr Sessions is part of a larger crisis at the White House that is being mocked by critics while creating unforced distractions for the administration. For example, new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci assailed rivals Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, two top aides to Mr Trump, in a profane tirade that is sure to inflame a running and very public feud among top White House officials.
Mr Sessions, however, gave no indication he plans to step down unless Mr Trump fires him. Mr Trump criticised Mr Sessions for recusing himself from the federal criminal investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and whether the President or any of his associates colluded with Moscow.
Mr Sessions said in Thursday's interview he is confident he made the right decision to recuse himself. "I talked to experts in the Department of Justice," Mr Sessions said. "An attorney general who doesn't follow the law is not very effective in leading the Department of Justice."
In the interview, he said he has been hurt by Mr Trump's criticisms, but is still honoured to serve the President as the nation's chief law enforcement official and push forward his conservative agenda.
"Well...it's kind of hurtful but the President of the United States is a strong leader," Mr Sessions said.
"He is determined to move this country in the direction that he believes it needs to go to make it great again. And he has had a lot of criticism and he's steadfast determined to get his job done and he wants all of us to do our job and that's what I intend to do."
He said he had not spoken to Mr Trump since his public criticism and there were no plans "on the calendar yet" to do so. But he said that he has made strides on issues he knows the President cares about, including illegal immigration. "We share such a common interest there," Mr Sessions said.
Mr Sessions' interview was the attorney general's first interview since Mr Trump began attacking him in newspaper stories and tweets, saying that he was "disappointed" that Mr Sessions had recused himself from the Russia investigation, calling Mr Sessions "beleaguered" and tweeting that he was "VERY weak" on investigating Mrs Hillary Clinton.
In recent days, Mr Trump has talked with his advisers about replacing Mr Sessions as his attorney general and, in his news conference on Tuesday, he did not say what the future would bring for Mr Sessions. "We'll see what happens," Mr Trump said. "Time will tell. Time will tell."
But conservative organisations, including Breitbart News, and Republican lawmakers have strongly come to his defence. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh criticised Mr Trump's "swipes" at Mr Sessions and called Mr Sessions a "by-the-book attorney general, a by-the-book legal mind".
"I think Sessions deserves to be treated much more fairly. I mean, Jeff was there when no other senator was," said Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the longest currently serving Republican in the Senate, referring to Mr Sessions' early support of Mr Trump during the presidential election.