This is What Obstruction Looks Like: Trump and Sessions
President Donald Trump told advisors in March, 2017, that he should have an attorney general who would protect him.
What followed were multiple efforts by the president to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take back control of the Russia investigation after his recusal, including the hope that he would limit the investigation to only future election meddling.
This summary of possible obstruction of justice by the president is drawn from information found in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s attack on our election.
In February 2017, Sessions began to assess whether he had to recuse himself from the investigation because of his role in Trump’s campaign. The president told White House Counsel Don McGahn to stop Sessions from recusing.
After Sessions announced his recusal on March 2, Trump expressed anger at the decision and told advisors that he should have an attorney general who would protect him.
That weekend, Trump took Sessions aside at an event and urged him to “unrecuse.”
With Sessions recused, Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russia’s attack on our election. Trump reacted to this by telling advisors that it was “the end of his presidency” and demanding that Sessions resign. Sessions submitted his resignation, but the president ultimately did not accept it.
In early summer 2017, the president called Sessions at home and again asked him to reverse his recusal from the Russia investigation. Sessions did not do so.
On June 19, 2017, Trump met one-on-one in the oval office with his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and dictated a message for Lewandowski to deliver to Sessions.
The message said that Sessions should publicly announce that the investigation was “very unfair” to the president, the president had done nothing wrong, and Sessions planned to meet with Mueller and “let [him] move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections.”
About a month later, in another private meeting, Trump asked about the status of the message, and Lewandowski told him it would be delivered soon. Hours after the meeting, Trump publicly criticized Sessions in an interview with The New York Times and then issued a series of tweets making it clear that Sessions’ job was in jeopardy.
Lewandowski did not want to deliver the president’s message personally, so he asked senior White House official Rick Dearborn to deliver it to Sessions. Dearborn was uncomfortable with the task and did not follow through.
Trump didn’t give up.
In October 2017, Trump met privately with Sessions in the Oval Office and asked him to “take [a] look” at investigating Hilary Clinton.
In December 2017, shortly after former national security advisor Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI, pursuant to a cooperation agreement, the president met with Sessions in the Oval Office and suggested, according to notes taken by a senior advisor, that if Sessions unrecused and took back supervision of the Russia investigation he would be a “hero.”
The president told Sessions, “I’m not going to do anything or direct you to do anything. I just want to be treated fairly.” In response, Sessions volunteered that he had never seen anything “improper” on the campaign and told the president there was a “whole new leadership team” in place. He did not unrecuse.
Trump eventually fired Sessions after the 2018 mid-term elections.