SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — After being berated for a week by President Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday he will stay in the job for as long as Trump wants him to serve.
Sessions told The Associated Press he and Trump have a “harmony of values and beliefs” and he intends to stay and fight for the president’s agenda “as long as he sees that as appropriate.”
“If he wants to make a change, he has every right,” Sessions said in an interview outside the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador during a mission to increase international cooperation against the MS-13 gang. “I serve at the pleasure of the president. I’ve understood that from the day I took the job.”
Congressional Republicans have rallied around Sessions, a former senator from Alabama, and expressed mortification at the humiliation visited on him by Trump in several interviews and a series of tweets branding him weak and ineffective.
Trump is upset that Sessions recused himself months ago from the investigation into interactions between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, and that he has not taken a tougher line against his defeated Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina warned Thursday there would be “holy hell” to pay if Trump fired Sessions.
After meeting his Salvadoran counterpart, Sessions told AP he was “thrilled” with the support he’s received, presumably from lawmakers.
“I believe we are running a great Department of Justice,” he said. “I believe with great confidence that I understand what is needed in the Department of Justice and what President Trump wants. I share his agenda.”
He acknowledged, with considerable understatement, “it hasn’t been my best week …. for my relationship with the president.” The two have not spoken recently, he said. “But I look forward to the opportunity to chat with him about it.”
In Congress, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska went to the Senate floor Thursday to discourage Trump from making a so-called recess appointment while the Senate is away at the end of August — should that be the president’s intention. A recess appointment would allow Trump to appoint anyone of his choosing and bypass Senate confirmation until 2019 if the Senate recesses for 10 days or more in August.
“If you’re thinking of making a recess appointment to push out the attorney general, forget about it,” Sasse said. “The presidency isn’t a bull, and this country isn’t a china shop.”
The previous evening, the GOP chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, tweeted that he wouldn’t be holding a confirmation hearing for a new attorney general if Trump decided to go that route.
The committee’s agenda is set for the rest of 2017, he tweeted, adding: “AG no way.”
The White House of late has appeared to be trying to tamp down the notion that Trump wants Sessions out — without offering a rousing endorsement of him, however.
“The president wants him to do his job, do it properly,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said Thursday. “He wants him to be tough on the intelligence leaks and he wants him to move forward.”
In Washington, lawmakers are aiming to prevent the dismissal of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a development that might be made easier if Sessions were moved aside.
Graham is working on legislation that would block the firing of special counsels without judicial review. Democrats Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said Thursday they are among the senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee who are working with Graham on the effort.
Graham and Whitehouse lead the Judiciary panel’s subcommittee on crime and terrorism and have been investigating Russian meddling in the election along with the committee’s chairman, Grassley.
Blumenthal said the bill would protect Mueller and other special counsels. He said firing Mueller “would precipitate a firestorm that would be unprecedented in proportions.”
Sessions recused himself from the investigation into election meddling after he acknowledged meeting with Russia’s ambassador during the campaign.
Mary Clare Jalonick reported from Washington