Kelly Assures Sessions He Can Stay as Attorney GeneralBy
New White House chief of staff made a call, person says
Call was among signs Kelly seeks to end White House turmoil
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is keeping his job, at least for now.
New White House chief of staff John Kelly told Sessions in a phone call over the weekend that President Donald Trump doesn’t intend to fire him and that his position is safe, according to a person familiar with the conversation who asked not to be identified discussing a private exchange.
Job security for Sessions became an embarrassingly open question -- “it’s kind of hurtful,” the attorney general said at one point -- after Trump attacked him in tweets. Trump called Sessions “weak” 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.
The phone call to Sessions, first reported Wednesday by the Associated Press, was the latest indication that Kelly, who had been secretary of Homeland Security, is moving to bring order to the turmoil that has roiled the administration. On the retired general’s first day as chief of staff last week, Anthony Scaramucci was removed from his job as White House communications director only 10 days after the financier joined Trump’s staff.
Scaramucci had criticized Reince Priebus, Kelly’s predecessor as chief of staff, and White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon in a vulgarity-laced interview published by the New Yorker.
On Wednesday, the White House said that Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a National Security Council staff member caught up in a controversy over the release of intelligence material to a member of Congress is also leaving his job. It was a sign that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is gaining more authority over his operation now that Kelly has arrived.
In Trump’s tweets belittling Sessions, the president also called on the former Republican senator from Alabama to be more aggressive in investigating and prosecuting those who leak sensitive government information.
On that front, Sessions appears to be trying to please the president: He plans to hold a press conference Friday to announce stepped-up efforts to find and prosecute leakers.
“Some people need to go to jail,” Sessions said last week in an interview with Fox News. “If we can make cases, they are going to jail.”
Although Sessions was an early and vocal supporter of Trump during the Republican primaries, he drew the president’s ire after he stepped away from the Russia investigation, which is now being led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller. The investigation has since broadened and dominated much of Trump’s presidency, sweeping up top White House officials and family members of the president.
Trump’s criticism of Sessions was seen by some as a move to eventually put someone in charge at the Justice Department who would fire Mueller. Now that Sessions is staying put, that option appears to be off the table.
Kelly’s call to Sessions signals a “dialing back any potential attack on Bob Mueller,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, said on MSNBC on Thursday.
The president’s repeated attacks on the attorney general -- he called Sessions “beleaguered” on Twitter -- also prompted a backlash among Republican senators, who rallied around their former colleague.
“If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told CNN last week.
— With assistance by Margaret Talev