Trump taunts Sessions but this time Attorney-General fires back

US President Donald Trump has launched a fresh attack on his Attorney-General, describing as "disgraceful" his handling of Republican complaints that the FBI abused its surveillance power during the early stages of the Russia investigation.

Key points:

  • Donald Trump wants prosecutors to lead investigation
  • Jeff Sessions says he will continue to act with "integrity"
  • Investigation looking into whether warrant was wrongly obtained to monitor Trump associate

Jeff Sessions, who rarely responds publicly to criticism from his boss, didn't keep quiet this time and said the Justice Department he leads had acted appropriately.

"As long as I am the Attorney-General, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honour, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution," Mr Sessions said.

The department's internal watchdog will evaluate whether prosecutors and agents wrongly obtained a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor the communications of a onetime Trump campaign associate, Mr Session announced on Tuesday.

The Inspector-General's review comes in response pressure from congressional Republicans who, like Mr Trump, have fumed about what they believe to be bias within the FBI.

External Link: Trump tweet: Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!

But that step apparently was not enough to satisfy Mr Trump, who has spent the past year berating the former Alabama senator who was the first member of the Senate to endorse Mr Trump's White House candidacy.

Mr Trump is angry that Mr Sessions referred the allegations of Justice Department employee misconduct to the Inspector-General and not prosecutors, but that's exactly what that office is charged with doing.

Its lawyers are part of the department and, contrary to Mr Trump's claims, can and often do refer matters for prosecution.

The office has been working on a separate review of the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation under former director James Comey, but that report is not late and is expected to be released about March or April.

Early Trump-Sessions bond continues to unravel

It was the latest of Mr Trump's verbal volleys aimed at Mr Sessions, who continues to faithfully execute Mr Trump's agenda.

A day earlier, for example, Mr Sessions said his Justice Department was working toward banning rapid-fire bump stock devices at Mr Trump's urging, even though the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had previously said it was powerless to do so without action from Congress.

Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions sit together.

Mr Sessions has been largely silent in the face of Mr Trump's extraordinary insults, which critics say has strained department morale and made Mr Sessions seem eager to appease his boss at risk of dangerously politicising the Justice Department.

A spokeswoman declined to comment on Wednesday.

The two bonded early in Mr Trump's campaign over their shared priorities of fighting urban crime and illegal immigration.

But their relationship was strained by Mr Sessions' decision to step aside from the Russia probe after facing questions about his own contacts with Russia's ambassador to the US during the campaign.

Mr Trump blames that move for the eventual appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to oversee the sprawling investigation.

Mr Trump's criticism has been so harsh that Mr Sessions last year offered his resignation, which the President refused to accept.

Mr Trump has since been relentlessly pressuring Mr Sessions to investigate political rivals.

The President and Republicans had also been encouraging the Attorney-General to look further into the surveillance abuse allegations.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested on Tuesday that Mr Trump would be pleased with Mr Sessions' referral to the Inspector-General.

"It's something that he's clearly had frustration over, so I would imagine he certainly support the decision to look into what we feel to be some wrongdoing," she said.

"I think that's the role of the Department of Justice and we're glad that they're fulfilling that job."


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