AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
President Trump continued his war of words against his own attorney general today. On "Fox & Friends," the president blasted Jeff Sessions.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX & FRIENDS")
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He took the job, and then he said I'm going to recuse myself. I said, what kind of a man is this?
CORNISH: Then, in a rare bit of self-defense, Sessions pushed back. Here to talk more about the controversy is NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hey there, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.
CORNISH: So first, just the reasons why President Trump is at this point so upset with his attorney general.
JOHNSON: Yeah. Jeff Sessions was one of the first members of Congress to support candidate Donald Trump. But after he recused himself from the Russia investigation, the president basically hasn't been able to forgive Jeff Sessions. The president goes back to that issue again and again. Trump's been blasting the attorney general on Twitter and again today on television. Trump told Fox News that Sessions is not in control of the Justice Department, and he says Sessions only got this job because he was loyal to Trump during the campaign.
CORNISH: What did Jeff Sessions have to say about this? And I know we've been calling this an unusual response. How come?
JOHNSON: Yeah. I can't remember a time when Jeff Sessions has actually pushed back to criticism from the president. He issued a statement today saying, actually, I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we've had an unprecedented success in pushing forward with this president's agenda, things like reducing violent crime, enforcing immigration laws and advancing religious liberty. Sessions also added importantly while I am the attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. In other words, back off, Mr. President. He also added no nation has more talented or dedicated law enforcement investigators than the United States. Now, shortly after that statement came out, Jeff Sessions was spotted at the White House. There was a little panic about that. Like, oh, is he about to lose his job? The Justice Department says he was there for a previously scheduled meeting on justice reform issues.
CORNISH: Right. But as soon as you bring up that panic, I think that's a reminder that President Trump hasn't really given Sessions job security, right? Will he stay on as head of the Justice Department?
JOHNSON: Our colleague Kelsey Snell is on Capitol Hill today. She's been asking Republican lawmakers about Jeff Sessions. They say the president's very frustrated, but firing the chief law enforcement officer is not a good idea. Here's Texas Senator John Cornyn. He's a member of Senate leadership.
JOHN CORNYN: And I know this is a difficult position for him to be in, but I think it would be bad for the country, it'd be bad for the president, it'd be bad for the Department of Justice for him to be forced out under these circumstances.
JOHNSON: Recall that before he became attorney general, Jeff Sessions was actually a member of the U.S. Senate for 20 years, so he still has a lot of fans there. And the mood is pretty tense right now. Lawmakers told Kelsey Snell they don't have a candidate who could be confirmed as attorney general if Sessions gets the boot. They don't have time to confirm somebody else. That means the president would have to live with Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who he doesn't like that much either.
CORNISH: Right. Any implications for the Mueller investigation if there's a shakeup there?
JOHNSON: Yeah. Robert Mueller is supervised by Rod Rosenstein. Jeff Sessions is out of the picture because of his recusal. So if Sessions goes, the president could name an attorney general who would have more control over Bob Mueller and the entire Russia investigation. That could create a huge uproar in law enforcement and political circles.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thank you.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.