Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered his resignation to President Donald Trump amid Trump’s rising frustration with the series of events that culminated in the appointment of a special counsel to investigate his campaign’s contacts with Russian officials during last year’s election.
Trump ultimately refused Sessions’ offer, which came just before Trump embarked on his first international trip in late May, according to a person who regularly speaks with Sessions. This person said the attorney general offered to resign out of a sense of obligation because he was aware of how angered Trump was about his decision to recuse from the Russia investigations in March.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not respond to a request for comment about Sessions’ resignation offer. Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores declined to comment.
In recent days however, and with fired FBI Director James Comey’s Thursday testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee set to once again put the spotlight on the Russia investigation, the White House and Trump have declined to give Sessions a vote of confidence.
Trump has continuously — sometimes publicly — expressed his frustration with Sessions’ decision to formally step back from any investigation of Russian election interference. A day after Sessions announced his recusal, Trump gathered his senior aides in the Oval Office for a meeting, during which he fumed about Sessions’ decision.
Trump has been furious about the series of investigations into Russia — which dismisses as a “witch hunt.” The president traces a direct line between Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from any Russia investigation to where he stands now: With former FBI Director Robert Mueller appointed as a special counsel and with intense public focus on the Russia investigation.
A fractured relationship between Trump and Sessions would be significant and could amount to Trump abandoning one of his most loyal supporters. Sessions was the first and, for many months, the only U.S. senator to back Trump’s campaign. Sessions traveled extensively with Trump, often speaking before him at events and serving as a surrogate to the then-Republican nominee. One of Trump’s top aides, Stephen Miller, worked for Sessions for years before joining Trump’s orbit.
Sessions has said his decision came after he consulted extensively with Justice Department lawyers about what was appropriate. He announced his recusal after revelations about a previously unreported meeting between Sessions and the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.
Trump traces the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to lead the investigation into Russian election interference back to Sessions decision to recuse himself.
A Trump adviser described Sessions as one of a number of targets of Trump’s frustration as the Russia issue intensifies.
“He’s in a mess and is blaming anyone around him — Sessions, (White House Counsel Don) McGahn, you name it, depending on the day,” the Trump adviser said.
The Trump adviser said Sessions was unlikely to leave his post — but that Sessions has been taken aback by how often Trump complains about the Russia recusal. Sessions, after consulting with Department of Justice lawyers, had thought the recusal was inevitable.
Trump hasn’t seen it the same way, the Trump adviser said.
"Trump doesn't follow the traditional rules of politics that when it gets hot, you have to do something to take the heat down," this person said. "He dials it up."
For his part, Sessions has maintained to Trump and others that his decision came only after taking the advice of career officials, the person close to Sessions said.
Sessions wanted to show that he was willing to keep the Department of Justice above politics, said the source, who added that Sessions felt motivated to restore faith and confidence in the department.