Jeff Sessions hits back at Donald Trump after president labels him a 'disgrace' over FBI allegations

Jeremy B White

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Issuing a rare response to criticism from Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has defended his decision to launch an internal probe of alleged surveillance abuses by the FBI.

The statement came hours after Mr Trump took to Twitter to lambaste Mr Sessions - whom he appointed and has the power to remove - for having the Department of Justice’s internal watchdog investigate allegations that officials had misused their authority in surveiling former Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

“We have initiated the appropriate process that will ensure complaints against this Department will be fully and fairly acted upon if necessary,” Mr Sessions said in a statement. “As long as I am the Attorney General, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this Department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution”.

In his earlier tweet, Mr Trump called Mr Sessions’ decision “DISGRACEFUL”!

Mr Trump has seized on a Republican-authored memorandum that alleges FBI and Justice Department officials concealed critical information about their sources in asking a special court to authorise surveillance of Mr Page. Democrats and law enforcement officials have criticised the memo’s claims as misleading, saying it omitted needed context.

The exchange of duelling statements by Mr Trump and Mr Sessions offered a public window into a remarkable breach between a President and his top law enforcement official. The spectacle drew disbelief even from their own party, with former Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz calling Mr Trump's online broadside “embarrassing” in an appearance on Fox News.

“It's kind of mind-boggling that he would call out his own Attorney General,” Mr Chaffetz said of the President. “He was the one who appointed him. If he's not up the job, get rid of him”.

With his longtime focus on law-and-order policies and stringent immigration laws, Mr Sessions made a natural ally for Mr Trump and was one of the first elected officials to endorse what was then considered a long-shot presidential bid.

But the relationship between the two has deteriorated as the White House continues to operate under the cloud of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and potential coordination with the Trump campaign.

Mr Sessions recused himself from investigating Russian meddling after it was revealed he had not disclosed prior contacts with the Russian ambassador, helping lead to Mr Mueller’s appointment and incurring Mr Trump’s fury. The President frequently denounces the investigation as politically tainted, saying there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia.

The President has repeatedly savaged his Attorney General on Twitter. Last year he called Mr Sessions “VERY weak” in handling allegations that Hillary Clinton misused a private server and questioned him for not replacing former FBI Director Andrew McCabe.

Earlier this month, after Mr Mueller unveiled charges against 13 Russian nationals for what an indictment described as a years-long campaign to disrupt American politics and buoy Mr Trump’s election bid, the President again lashed out.

“Why didn’t Obama do something about the meddling? Why aren’t Dem crimes under investigation? Ask Jeff Sessions!” Mr Trump said.

The probe has already produced multiple indictments of former Trump campaign officials. Former aides George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn - who briefly served as Mr Trump’s national security adviser - pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about contacts with Russian surrogates.

Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who faces charges related to allegedly concealing the proceeds from lobbying activity for Ukraine, has maintained his innocence. His associate Rick Gates has pleaded guilty to fraud and lying to government investigators.