US President Donald Trump has said he would not have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions if he had known the top law official would recuse himself from the investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the presidential election.
In an interview with the New York Times on Wednesday, the president also criticized Sessions’ confirmation testimony in the US senate, in which the Attorney General denied “communications with the Russians” despite at least two meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign.
“Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers,” the president told the Times.
“He gave some answers that were simple questions and should have been simple answers, but they weren’t.”
Sessions recused himself from overseeing the Russian probe in March after the Washington Post revealed the meetings with Kislyak.
But Trump said Sessions, a former US senator, had acted unfairly in taking the job in the first place if he had felt in any way compromised.
“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,'” Trump said.
“It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”
In an appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June, Sessions vehemently denied any collusion with Russia to tilt last year’s US election in Trump’s favor.
He also engaged in testy exchanges with several senators who pressed him for details on his discussions with Trump — which he refused to provide in the name of confidentiality.
The interview comes as Trump reaches the six-month mark of his presidency, and amid reports that a senate panel next week will grill three of the pivotal players in his 2016 presidential campaign — including his eldest son and son-in-law — over allegations of the campaign’s collusion with Russia.
Donald Trump Jr. is scheduled to appear July 26 before the Senate Judiciary Committee along with former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to a witness list released by the panel Wednesday.
Also, a lawyer for Trump’s powerful son-in-law and adviser said Jared Kushner will speak to the Senate intelligence committee Monday.
Trump told the Times that a conversation he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a dinner at the Group of 20 summit in Germany earlier this month lasted about 15 minutes and was mostly about “pleasantries.”
That conversation has sparked controversy because it was only disclosed on Tuesday.
The White House confirmed the politically sensitive sit-down over dinner only after it was leaked, but has denied that it amounted to anything untoward.
“Once again, the Russia fever has caught up with the media and everybody ran out and tried to create a story that simply didn’t exist,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a briefing on Wednesday.
That message was echoed by her Kremlin counterpart Dmitry Peskov.
“The use of the terms ‘secret’ or ‘confidential’ for this meeting provokes absolute surprise and incomprehension.”