June 5, 2018 / 2:11 PM / 6 months ago

Pressure builds on U.S. attorney general Sessions as Trump pours on blame

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump lashed out at U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, directly blaming him for allowing a probe into possible collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia to overshadow his presidency for more than a year.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions button their coats as they stand for the national anthem at a graduation ceremony at the FBI Academy on the grounds of Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, Virginia, U.S. December 15, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Trump, who has denied any collusion, has repeatedly called out Sessions over the investigation and lamented choosing him to lead the U.S. Department of Justice, and seemed to go further in a post on Twitter on Tuesday that laid bare his motivation.

Sessions last year removed himself from overseeing the U.S. special counsel’s probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, given his interactions with the Russian ambassador to the United States at least twice that year.

The New York Times last week reported that Trump directly asked Sessions to reverse his recusal last year.

Trump’s tweet ramped up pressure on Sessions over the probe, which has led to multiple indictments. Five people have pleaded guilty, including former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and a longtime business partner to Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

“The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn’t tell me he was going to recuse himself...I would have quickly picked someone else. So much time and money wasted, so many lives ruined...and Sessions knew better than most that there was No Collusion!” Trump wrote.

His post comes as Manafort faces possible time in jail pending trial after U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Monday said he had attempted to tamper with potential witnesses and called for an urgent hearing in federal court.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to charges ranging from money-laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent, to bank and tax fraud.

Trump could fire Sessions but so far has not. He has also publicly contemplated firing U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Mueller.

Such a move would be politically explosive, and any replacement to Sessions would have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, which is only narrowly controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans.

Sessions, who left his U.S. Senate seat to lead the Justice Department, has also come under pressure from congressional Republicans who have pushed for a second special prosecutor to investigate the FBI, a move Sessions rejected.

The FBI earlier this year raided the office and home of Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, also prompting Trump’s wrath.

Frustrated by the Mueller investigation, Republicans in Congress have started probes into other matters such as the FBI’s handling of the investigation of Trump’s 2016 rival Democrat Hillary Clinton’s use of her private email server while secretary of state.

The department’s internal watchdog has examined former FBI chief James Comey’s public disclosures regarding Clinton and whether FBI employees leaked information to try to hurt her presidential bid. That report was expected to have been released in May.

Trump raised questions about the report in a separate tweet on Tuesday. A spokesman for the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General said there was no specific timing for its release.

Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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