President Donald Trump said in an interview with The New York Times Wednesday that he would not have appointed Jeff Sessions attorney general had he known the former senator would recuse himself from the Justice Department investigation into Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election.
Trump also attacked former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was appointed special counsel overseeing the Russia probe, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and former FBI Director James Comey.
Sessions in March recused himself from overseeing the probe into whether Trump’s associates colluded with Russian officials to influence the outcome of the election. He took the step after revelations he had met with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, twice during the election year.
“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,” Trump told the Times.
He added: “Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? 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.”
Earlier this week, Axios reported that Trump continued to harbor resentment against Sessions over the decision.
A Justice Department spokesperson didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
Trump, who has repeatedly described the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt” fueled by the “fake news” media, also claimed in the interview that Mueller’s probe was rife with conflicts of interest, saying Mueller had interviewed to replace Comey prior to his appointment as special counsel. Trump also warned federal investigators against looking into his family’s financial interests beyond those tied to Russia.
“I think that’s a violation,” he said. “Look, this is about Russia.”
He took several jabs at Rosenstein, the Justice Department official who penned the May memo recommending Trump fire Comey. The president specifically criticized Rosenstein for appointing Mueller as special prosecutor, and took an odd swipe at Rosenstein’s hometown, Baltimore.
“There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any,” Trump said.
Trump repeated his claim that Comey lied during testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and said he believes the then-FBI director informed him about a dossier of salacious allegations against Trump as a way to gain leverage.
“In my opinion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there,” Trump said.
The interview comes amid heightened interest in the president and his team’s ties to Russia. The White House in recent days has been roiled by scandal involving the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., setting up a June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-linked attorney who promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
And on Tuesday, it was revealed Trump had a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a dinner at the G-20 summit, hours after he had a formal sit-down with the Russian leader. That conversation was not disclosed by White House officials until Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, broke news of the encounter.
This is a developing story and has been updated.