Sessions doesn't regret recusing himself from Russia probe despite Trump's attacks

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Trump ousted Sessions last November, saying he never would have selected him for the role of attorney general if he'd known Sessions was planning to recuse himself.

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Thursday that he will run to win back the Alabama Senate seat he held from 1997 to 2017, despite Donald Trump's reported opposition to the idea.

But while Sessions spent much of his first interview as a candidate presenting himself as a Trump loyalist, he offered no apology for doing what alienated Trump to begin with.

Sessions appeared on Fox News Thursday evening and was asked whether he regretted his decision to recuse himself from all investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election on Donald Trump's behalf — a move that lead to then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointing special counsel Robert Mueller.

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"No," he replied. "I did the thing I had to do under the rules of the Department of Justice. The senior advisers told me that this is what the rules required, the regulations required. And I read them and I don't think there was any out for me."

Sessions said that he understood how "painful it was" for Trump, but said, "as painful and as prolonged as it was, it did clear him of Russian collusion."

Mueller did not actually investigate "collusion," though he did find insufficient evidence to charge Trump with illegal coordination with Vladimir Putin's regime.

Since Sessions' March 2017 announcement that he would recuse himself, Trump has repeatedly attacked him for the decision.

"Sessions should have never recused himself," he told the New York Times that July, "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."

The following June, Trump complained, "The Russian Witch Hunt continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn't tell me he was going to recuse himself... I would have quickly picked someone else."

Sessions' recusal was hardly the only thing about his tenure at the Justice Department that Trump disliked. Trump publicly excoriated him for matters big and small, including his department's indictments of two congressional Republicans and his failure to launch an investigation into his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton.

"I don’t have an attorney general. It’s very sad," he said in a September 2018 interview. "I’m not happy at the border, I’m not happy with numerous things, not just this [recusal]."

In November 2018, Sessions resigned at Trump's request, but Trump continued to badmouth him. Last month, Trump skewered his former attorney general as a "total disaster" and "an embarrassment to the great state of Alabama."

The Mueller investigation was a huge thorn in Trump's side and a constant distraction for him from May 2017 until its completion this past March. Trump stonewalled Mueller's requests for testimony and refused to provide complete answers to the the special counsel team, though he repeatedly told anyone and everyone that there was "no collusion."

Mueller issued a voluminous final report on the investigation in April. In it, he detailed at least 10 separate instances of possible obstruction of justice by Trump as well as extensive ties between Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia.

Mueller also specified that he had not referred any indictments against Trump because, under Justice Department policy, a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime.

Trump falsely called it a "complete and total exoneration."

Trump reportedly asked a Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL) last week which GOP nominee might face Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) in next year's election. "Don't tell me Sessions," he demanded.

According to Newsweek, Trump has privately said he will publicly attack Sessions' candidacy. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) told CQ Roll Call last week that he does not see how Sessions can win the GOP primary, especially without Trump's support.

"And then there’s the fact that the president of the United States despises him, has openly said he will vigorously campaign against him," he said. "That’s an awfully steep hill in Alabama where, as you know, Donald Trump has the highest favorables of any state in the union."

On Friday, Trump was noncommittal when asked about Sessions' candidacy. "I haven't made a determination," he told reporters, noting that there are "some very good people" already running for the seat. Asked if he had forgiven his former attorney general for his recusal, Trump said, "I don't even think about it."

Even if Trump does not publicly oppose Sessions, his previous attacks could present a challenge for his candidacy.

Just this week, a political committee supporting former football coach and Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville released an ad showing Trump calling Sessions "a bad bad guy" at a March 2019 event. The narrator then urges voters to "say no to Traitor Jeff Sessions."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.