Jeff Sessions, U.S. attorney general, speaks during a meeting. (Photographer: Olivier Douliery/Bloomberg)

McConnell Says He Wants Sessions to ‘Stay Where He Is’

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered beleaguered Attorney General Jeff Sessions his full endorsement Tuesday, even as some Republicans have signaled President Donald Trump may replace him after the midterm elections in November.

“I have total confidence in the attorney general,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “I think he ought to stay where he is.”

McConnell commented after a group of Senate Republicans urged Sessions at a breakfast last Thursday not to step down, at least for now. John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s No. 2-ranking Republican, said he and colleagues used the previously scheduled meeting at the Justice Department to urge Sessions to “stay strong” amid a steady drumbeat of attacks from Trump.

Some Republicans have gone public in the past week urging Trump not to fire Sessions, especially before the elections, a move that could jeopardize their chances of holding both chambers of Congress and also complicate the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Related: Trump Hits Favorite Themes Attacking Sessions and DOJ

Even so, GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has said it’s “very likely” Trump will oust Sessions after the elections, and Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa has said he’d have time for a confirmation hearing for a replacement. It’s a shift for both from last year, when they were protecting the attorney general.

Trump has long expressed open contempt for Sessions, ridiculing the former Republican senator for recusing himself from the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election now led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. A successor to Sessions could fire Mueller or rein in his probe, which has expanded to encompass whether anyone close to Trump conspired with the Russians and whether the president sought to obstruct justice.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the senior Senate Republican, said Tuesday that he sent a note of support to Sessions last week.

“I sent him a message to hang in there,” Hatch said. “I don’t like him being pushed around, to be honest with you." He also cautioned Trump on Sessions, saying, “I’d ask him to be very careful what he does there.”

Sessions was urged to hang on -- at least for the time being -- at the breakfast last week that was also attended by Republican Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Jerry Moran of Kansas and John Kennedy of Louisiana, according to a person familiar with the session who asked not to be identified discussing the private meeting. It was reported earlier Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal.

‘Kerfuffle’ With Trump

“It kind of turned to the kerfuffle with the president, and we all encouraged him to stay strong and, as I’ve said previously, I think it’s important to the country, important to the Department of Justice and important to the president that the attorney general stay where he is,” Cornyn said. “I know he and the president have a difference of opinion on the recusal, but my view is the attorney general did the only thing he could do.”

Graham -- who sometimes criticizes Trump and other times praises him and golfs with the president at his resorts -- didn’t back off Tuesday from his prediction that Sessions’s time as the nation’s No. 1 law enforcement officer is coming to a close.

“It’s getting obviously to be worse and worse and worse,” he told reporters, referring to relations between Sessions and Trump. “If you can repair it, great, but I just don’t think this is sustainable.”

“We need an attorney general that has the confidence of the president,” said Graham, who says he isn’t angling for the post. He said Trump would need to find someone else who would commit to letting Mueller do his job "without interference."

“I just know the depth of the problem,” Graham said of Trump’s relationship with Sessions. “It’s no one thing. It’s a bunch of things.”

Graham said Sessions shared in the blame for the administration’s “debacle” over separating child immigrants from parents. He also expressed frustration that the Justice Department didn’t accede to a Republican push for a second special counsel “to look at what I think is just blatant abuse by the Department of Justice and the FBI” in early stages of the Russia inquiry and in the handling of the probe into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic, said he’s concerned that support for Sessions is shrinking among some Republicans.

“What I’m really concerned about is not just that but the knock-on effect -- the dominoes, where it goes from here. Does it go to Rod Rosenstein?” he asked, referring to the deputy attorney general who appointed Mueller. “To Mueller? We’ve got to let Mueller continue with his investigation."

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