Attorney General Jeff Sessions violated his own memo outlining the standards for recusing himself from the probe into Russian election interference, offering opinions about investigator Robert Mueller during a Fox News interview.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions violated his agreement to recuse himself from being involved in the ongoing investigation of coordination between Donald Trump's campaign and Russia by commenting on the case in a nationally televised interview.
After it was revealed that he had lied to a Senate panel about his contacts with Russia while working as a campaign surrogate for Trump, Sessions was pressured into announcing that he would recuse himself from the investigations.
In a Department of Justice memo explaining the details of the recusal, Sessions' chief of staff noted that the recusal "extends to Department responses to Congressional and media inquiries" related to the Russia investigation.
But Sessions threw that all out the window for Fox News.
On Fox & Friends — which has become the leading source of pro-Trump propaganda in the media, including receiving access to Trump in exchange for this status — co-host Ainsley Earhardt asked Sessions to weigh in on comments from Trump insinuating trouble with the investigation due to a pre-existing relationship between special counsel Robert Mueller and former FBI Director James Comey.
Instead of telling the hosts that his recusal bars him from making that brand of commentary, Sessions declared that "we need to ... clear the air on this and let the system work its will."
Co-host Pete Hegseth asked Sessions if he "had any concerns" about the hires Mueller had made to lead the investigative team, a reference to conservative attempts to impugn the motives of the professional investigators.
Again, Sessions chose not to refuse comment, instead saying, "Mr. Mueller is entitled, lawfully I guess, at this point, to hire who he desires but I think he should look for people who have strength and credibility by all people."
Sessions also dropped a hint in front of Fox's audience that he wants the Mueller-led probe concluded quickly, echoing language for the Trump administration that has urged quickly moving on from the case, despite its implications for American security.
EARHARDT: Mr. Attorney General, we were talking to the president — we were asking him about the Russia probe and the latest on this investigation. The deputy attorney general has appointed Robert Mueller to oversee this case. Many people are questioning that, because he is very good friends with James Comey, who is being investigated in this, or involved in the investigation. We asked the president about it. He said it was "bothersome" to him. What do you think?
SESSIONS: Well, we need to have a — clear the air on this and to let the system work its will. That is all that can be done at this point. And we expect full integrity and good work from every person involved in this investigation.
HEGSETH: Do you have have any concerns, briefly, Mr. Attorney General, of the hires that have been made by Bob Mueller? Lot of criticism, you see people tied to the Clinton Foundation, Democratic politics — any concerns there?
SESSIONS: Well, Mr. Mueller is entitled lawfully, I guess, at this point, to hire who he desires. But I think he should look for people who have strength and credibility by all people.
DOOCY: An exit question for you: Do you have full confidence in Robert Mueller?
SESSIONS: Mr. Mueller is someone I've known for a long time and I've had confidence in him over the years, yes.
DOOCY: Over the years, but what about right now?
SESSIONS: Well, I feel confident about what he will do. That is all I can say to you about that. The man has a good reputation. He knows his business. Hopefully, we can see this matter move forward, and come to an end sooner rather than later.
DOOCY: I think we're all ready for that.
Ethics experts raised warning signs about the interview, which is new ammunition for Trump's pushback against the investigation on multiple fronts, including his Twitter account.
Richard Painter, former White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, told Politico, "He should not be doing this." And Washington University law professor Kathleen Clark told the outlet, "I believe that the White House and its allies are attempting to undermine Mueller's stellar reputation and his credibility. Sessions should not participate in this type of attempt to undermine Mueller's investigation."
Trump and those in his orbit have shown an avowed hostility to ethical norms during their short time in power, favoring what appears to make Trump's life easier rather than what helps the American people.
Sessions willfully violating his own office's guidelines is just the latest blow.