HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- President Donald Trump has been sharply critical of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in recent weeks, chiding him for his recusal in the Russia investigation, a failure to pursue Hillary Clinton and intelligence leaks and even questioning the reasons for Sessions’ endorsement of Trump.
Sessions was, famously, the first U.S. Senator to endorse Trump. He did it at a rally in Madison in February 2016. Sessions campaigned for Trump, gave the nominating speech at the Republican National Convention and was with Trump on election night.
But in an interview with the Wall Street Journal Tuesday, Trump said Sessions’ endorsement may have been more about Trump’s own popularity in Alabama.
“I had 40,000 people,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal, apparently referring to a 2015 rally in Mobile. “He was the senator from Alabama. I won the state by a lot, massive numbers. A lot of the states I won by massive numbers. But he was a senator. He looks at 40,000 people and he probably says, what do I have to lose, and he endorsed me. So it’s not like a great, loyal thing about the endorsement.”
Trump had a large turnout for the August 2015 rally, but AL.com reported at the time there was some dispute about the actual crowd size.
“The rally drew a large crowd, but no one with the Trump campaign nor anyone with the city or stadium, took an accurate count. Whether it was unintentional or by political design, the estimates have varied wildly: The Trump campaign claimed more than 30,000 people in attendance, while others have said it was more like 15,000,” AL.com reported.
Trump has been going after Sessions, among others, on Twitter for several days, including Wednesday morning.
But Trump’s criticism of Sessions has been responded to by praise for Sessions by Alabama elected officials including North Alabama Congressmen Mo Brooks and Robert Aderholt and U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby.
U.S. Sen. Luther Strange issued a statement to WHNT News 19 on Tuesday where he also praised Sessions, but he issued a warning about reports of strain between Trump and Sessions, “…it's a privilege to work alongside both to accomplish the Trump agenda for the American people, and we need to stop letting the media distract us from that agenda."
Trump began criticizing the Attorney General for his recusal from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trumpcalled that “very unfair” to him. And, Trump reiterated to the Wall Street Journal Tuesday that he told Sessions he wouldn’t have appointed him Attorney General, if he knew Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
Tuesday he said at a press conference, regarding Sessions’ future, “We’ll see. Time will tell.”
For his part, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, who’s running for the Senate seat that was held by Sessions before he became Attorney General, defended Sessions.
“It is very disconcerting to see Jeff Sessions, formerly a great senator, being the subject of unwarranted criticism when he is certainly doing a great job as attorney general,” Brooks told WHNT News 19.
Brooks also defended the recusal decision, which came after Sessions was found to have had previously undisclosed discussions with a Russian official during the 2016 campaign.
“Jeff Sessions was required by the ethical rules that guide all attorneys to withdraw the moment it became apparent that he might be a witness,” Brooks said.