President Trump intensified his criticism of Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions on Monday, this time suggesting that the Justice Department should not have brought indictments against two Republican members of Congress, one of them from California, before the midterm elections in November.
The congressmen he referred to in two combative tweets were Reps. Duncan Hunter of Alpine, who was charged last month with spending campaign funds on personal expenses and falsifying federal reports on his political finances, and Chris Collins of New York, who two weeks earlier was accused of insider trading and lying to the FBI. The two were the first members of Congress to endorse Trump after he announced his bid for president in 2015, at a time when few others did.
“Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department,” the president tweeted from the White House on the Labor Day holiday.
“Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time,” Trump wrote, adding sarcastically: “Good job Jeff.”
He amplified that sentiment in a subsequent tweet, saying: “The Democrats, none of whom voted for Jeff Sessions, must love him now.”
Critics of the president saw the pair of tweets as a brazen call for Justice to intervene in criminal cases for political reasons, reflecting a new benchmark in his long-running campaign to undermine the independence of law enforcement and the judiciary.
Trump also falsely referred to the investigations of the two congressmen as being “long running, Obama era” matters.
Collins was indicted for alleged insider trading that he conducted in 2017, including a phone call from the White House lawn while he was attending a social function with Trump. The investigation into Hunter’s campaign spending began in 2016 with inquiries by the Federal Election Commission. The FBI first conducted a search of Hunter’s office in February 2017, shortly after Trump was inaugurated.
Trump’s tweets — denouncing Sessions for in effect failing to use his official authority to try to tip the electoral scales in favor of Republicans — came even as he is under investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III for possibly seeking to obstruct justice in the Russia probe, including by his past attacks on Sessions for not ending it.
The president’s outburst came toward the end of a holiday weekend marked by his reported frustration over five days of televised commemorations for the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a frequent target of Trump’s derision. He was not invited to any of the memorial events, culminating in a funeral Saturday in Washington’s National Cathedral where Trump’s predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, gave the eulogies.
Trump has inveighed against Sessions for months, repeatedly expressing frustration that the attorney general recused himself in the administration’s earliest days from matters pertaining to the wide-ranging Russia probe. Sessions did so because he’d been a top advisor in the Trump campaign. Mueller is looking into matters including potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, as well as possible obstruction of justice.
In other tweets, Trump mocked former Secretary of State John Kerry for reports that he might run again for president in 2020, and issued a Labor Day gibe at Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest labor union federation.
Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank, a former prosecutor and frequent critic of the president as the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, took to Twitter himself. He called the president’s tweets about Sessions a sign of not only Trump’s “authoritarian impulses” but also his “conviction that law enforcement should simply be an extension of his political self-interest.”
Schiff, who has called repeatedly for Congress to protect the Mueller probe and investigate possible improprieties by Trump, his aides and family members, added, “The only question is whether Congressional Republicans will continue to look the other way.”
Republicans, too, joined the criticism.
“The United States is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice — one for the majority party and one for the minority party,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said in a statement. “These two men have been charged with crimes because of evidence.”
Sessions has remained in his post despite Trump’s periodic outbursts of public ire over more than a year, attacks that have been widely interpreted as the president’s bid to goad him into quitting.
Privately, Trump has talked of firing Sessions but his lawyers and allies have warned of a heavy backlash, perhaps including legal repercussions, if he does so to curtail the Mueller investigation.
Hunter, facing a 60-count federal indictment on corruption charges, has expressly embraced Trump’s arguments in the president’s own case, contending that just like the president he is the victim of a politically motivated witch hunt by the Justice Department.
While denying wrongdoing, Hunter has publicly sought to shift blame to his wife, Margaret, who was also charged. The pair stand accused of spending a quarter-million dollars in campaign contributions to cover personal expenses including luxury vacations in Italy and Hawaii and gourmet meals.
Hunter caused a stir when he told Fox News that his wife had always handled his finances, including for his campaign.