Sessions pushes back on Trump after ‘disgraceful’ insult
By Dan Merica, Laura Jarrett and Maegan Vazquez, CNN
Washington (CNN)Attorney General Jeff Sessions pushed back against President Donald Trump’s latest insult on Wednesday, prolonging an increasingly awkward public spat between the President and his top law enforcement official.
Trump chastised Sessions over an investigation into alleged surveillance abuses, calling his approach “disgraceful.”
“Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc,” Trump wrote. “Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!”
Responding to Trump’s tweet, the attorney general said in a statement that the Justice Department “initiated the appropriate process that will ensure complaints against this department will be fully and fairly acted upon if necessary.”
“As long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution,” Sessions said.
Sessions had said Tuesday that the Justice Department is looking at whether the FBI has properly handled applications for surveillance orders under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Sessions, appearing at a news conference announcing a new opioid task force, was asked about House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’ controversial memo outlining purported surveillance abuses and told reporters that “the inspector general will take that as one of the matters he’ll deal with.”
The Justice Department’s inspector general is Michael E. Horowitz, a longtime department official who has worked under Republican and Democrat administrations. He was confirmed for the inspector general job in 2012 under then-President Barack Obama.
While Trump is correct that Horowitz does not have prosecutorial powers, he can — and often does — make criminal referrals to the Justice Department based on his investigations. An investigation into improper FISA use would fall squarely onto Horowitz, too, given his charge instructs him to “investigate alleged violations of criminal and civil laws by DOJ employee.”
Sessions chose to respond to the President because his latest jab was more “in the weeds” and about process, said a source familiar with Sessions’ thinking.
Previous times, Trump has insulted Sessions when calling for the investigation of Hillary Clinton, but this time he called for Sessions to go after Justice Department attorneys, which was a bridge too far, said the source.
“There is a process, we are following that process,” the source added.
As Sessions left the Billy Graham event in the Capitol on Wednesday, CNN asked for his response to Trump’s tweet and criticism of him.
“I’m not commenting on that this morning. Thank you,” he responded.
Asked if he has discussed the criticism directly with the President, Sessions just said, “Thanks.”
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