Hits put Sessions in familiar hot seat

WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation’s chief law enforcement officer found himself in a familiar spot Friday: belittled by the president, pressured to investigate political opponents and sucked back into the center of the storm around the investigation into the Trump administration’s campaign ties to Russia.

In President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to be perpetually in the hot seat, yet he has made clear he’s not going anywhere. In an administration where top aides serve at the president’s displeasure, the former Alabama senator has shown he is more than willing to absorb the blows.

Trump paused to hit Sessions with yet another indignity just before he left the White House for a 12-day Asia trip increasingly colored by his domestic political troubles. Asked if he would fire the attorney general if he doesn’t investigate his Democratic political rivals, Trump said, “I don’t know.” He continued to vent his frustration with the top prosecutor.

“I’m not really involved with the Justice Department,” he said. “I’d like to let it run itself. But honestly, they should be looking at Democrats. … They should be looking at a lot of things, and a lot of people are disappointed with the Justice Department, including me.”

Two White House officials quickly cautioned against reading too much into Trump’s comments, reiterating that he has no plans to fire Sessions. And although the White House maintains that Trump’s tweets are “official record,” it says Trump has not ordered Sessions or the FBI to do anything related to Democrats.

Trump issued a flurry of tweets over a 3-1/2-hour span Friday urging the Justice Department to investigate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee over a joint fundraising agreement they signed in August 2015.

Trump’s accusations follow publication by Politico of an excerpt from former acting DNC Chair Donna Brazile’s upcoming book. Brazile alleges she found “proof” that the 2016 Democratic primary was rigged in Clinton’s favor.

“Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems…” Trump tweeted.

The aides said the tweets were a media savvy way to deflect attention from the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. This week, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates, who also had a role in the campaign, were indicted on 12 counts, and former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying about his dealings with Russians who were offering “dirt” on Clinton.

Sessions has become a scapegoat for Trump’s anger, allowing the president to avoid some of the political consequences of directly attacking the special counsel.