McConnell: Sessions should stay as attorney general

McConnell: Sessions should stay as attorney general
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' New Yorker cover titled 'The Shining' shows Graham, McConnell, Barr polishing Trump's shoes MORE (R-Ky.) is throwing his support behind Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsAmash: Some of Trump's actions 'were inherently corrupt' 'Persuadable' voters are key to the 2020 election — and the non-screaming news industry Jeffrey Rosen officially sworn in as deputy attorney general MORE as some Republicans have opened the door to President TrumpDonald John TrumpNASA exec leading moon mission quits weeks after appointment The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' MORE firing the top Justice Department official.

"Yes, I have total confidence in the attorney general; I think he ought to stay exactly where he is," McConnell told reporters on Tuesday, asked if he still supported the attorney general.

McConnell's comments backing Sessions — who served in the Senate for 20 years — mark the first time the Senate GOP leader has publicly weighed in since Trump restarted his feud with the attorney general late last week.

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Speculation about Sessions's job security reached a fever pitch after GOP Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamNew Yorker cover titled 'The Shining' shows Graham, McConnell, Barr polishing Trump's shoes Graham: 'US must be willing to intervene in Venezuela' Trump Jr. slams Republican committee chairman: 'Too weak to stand up to the Democrats' MORE (S.C.) told reporters that it was likely Trump would pick a new attorney general after the midterms. 

Graham, despite widespread pushback from his colleagues, has doubled down on his comments, arguing that the Trump-Sessions relationship is "beyond repair."

"You have to replace him with somebody who is highly qualified and will commit to the Senate to allow Mueller to do his job. ... The President has lost confidence in Jeff Sessions," Graham told NBC News's "Today" on Tuesday.

He added that the two men have a "dysfunctional relationship" and "we need a better one."

But several Republican senators have publicly warned Trump against firing Sessions, suggesting he would not be able to get a successor confirmed through the Senate.

Five Republican senators had breakfast with Sessions on Thursday and encouraged him to stay on the job. Hours after the meeting, which was first reported on Tuesday by The Wall Street Journal, Sessions fired back at the president in a rare statement, saying his department “will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Bipartisan House bill calls for strategy to protect 5G networks from foreign threats Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' MORE (Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, called the breakfast a "standard" meeting similar to what he and other Judiciary Committee members have had with other attorney generals.

"It kind of turned to the kerfuffle with the president and we all encouraged him to stay strong," Cornyn told reporters when asked about the meeting.

Sessions invited the GOP senators to the meeting, which was scheduled before the current round of "unpleasantness," according to Cornyn. In addition to Cornyn, GOP Sens. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSenate GOP votes to permanently ban earmarks The Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget Senate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law MORE (Neb.), John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (La.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranOn The Money: Judge upholds House subpoena for Trump financial records | Trump vows to appeal ruling by 'Obama-appointed judge' | Canada, Mexico lift retaliatory tariffs on US | IRS audit rate falls GOP senator calls for resolution of trade dispute: 'Farmers and ranchers are hurting' Frustrated GOP senators want answers from Trump on Iran MORE (Kan.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' Lawmakers call for investigation after census hired registered sex offender MORE (N.C.) attended the breakfast.

Cornyn added that senators encouraged Sessions to "stay strong," while acknowledging that Trump's attacks "can't be fun." Asked if Sessions indicated that he would take their advice, Cornyn pointed to the statement released by Sessions.

"You saw the statement that came out of his office," he said, "and I think part of that started at the breakfast. That's the way I interpreted it. It sounded to me like he was laying down a pretty firm marker."

Trump renewed his criticism of Sessions — who was his earliest Senate supporter but has fallen from grace amid the Russia probe — during a Fox News interview last week over the attorney general's recusal from matters related to the special counsel investigation into Russia's election interference.

Trump has only doubled down on his criticism after Sessions said he wouldn't be improperly influenced.Trump said in a tweet that Sessions should look at the "other side."

"Come on Jeff, you can do it, the country is waiting!" Trump said.