U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions looks on during a news conference announcing the takedown of the dark web marketplace AlphaBay, at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S., July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein(reuters_tickers)
By Doina Chiacu and Julia Edwards Ainsley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday brushed off sharp criticism from President Donald Trump over his recusal from the Justice Department's Russia investigation, saying he loved his job and planned to continue serving.
"We love this job, we love this department, and I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate," Sessions said at a news conference announcing a cyber crime bust.
Sessions was flanked by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Acting Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Andrew McCabe, who were both also criticized by the president in an interview with the New York Times on Wednesday.
Trump took a broad swipe at his administration's top law officers in the interview, saying he would not have appointed Sessions as attorney general if he had known he would recuse himself. The Republican president also noted Rosenstein's connection to Democratic Baltimore and that McCabe's wife took money from a leading Democrat during a political campaign.
The public lashing came after a turbulent first six months in office during which Trump fired national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James Comey, then the top official leading the probe into whether Russian meddled in the 2016 presidential election and possible ties to the Trump campaign.
Sessions recused himself in March from the Russia criminal investigation. He did so after failing to disclose at his confirmation hearing that he had held meetings last year with Russia's ambassador.
"Sessions should have never recused himself and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else," the Times quoted Trump as saying.
White House spokesman Sarah Sanders said later on Thursday that, while Trump was disappointed in the recusal, "clearly he has confidence in him or he would not be the attorney general."
Sessions was Trump's first supporter in the U.S. Senate and helped shape his political team throughout the campaign and into the transition after the Nov. 8 election.
He declined on Thursday to acknowledge Trump's criticism.
"I have the honour of serving as attorney general. It's something that goes beyond any thought I would have ever had for myself," Sessions said.
Similarly, Rosenstein declined to comment when asked about Trump's remarks that there were very few Republicans in Baltimore, where he was a former federal prosecutor. "I was proud to be here yesterday, I'm proud to be here today, I'll be proud to work here tomorrow," he said.
They took only a few questions before a spokesman asked if there were any questions about the department's dismantlement of AlphaBay, a "dark web" market. Seeing no hands, Sessions left as reporters shouted questions about whether he would resign.
An aide to Sessions said the recent disparaging remarks from Trump are "nothing new," given news media reports last month that the president was upset with the attorney general over the Russia recusal.
A federal special counsel has been appointed to take over the Russia investigation, and several congressional committees are conducting probes. Next week, Trump's son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, and the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., are scheduled to testify before Senate panels, as well as former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
The Kremlin says it did not interfere in the election, and Trump has denied any collusion.
In the Times interview, the president also took aim at the special counsel appointed to take over the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller, saying Mueller would be crossing a "red line" if he began investigating Trump's personal finances.
"I think that's a violation. Look, this is about Russia,” Trump told the Times.
At the White House, Sanders said Trump has no intention of firing Mueller at this time.
The Times also reported on Wednesday that Deutsche Bank AG has been in contact with federal investigators about Trump's accounts, citing two people briefed on the matter. And the bank was expecting to eventually have to provide information to Mueller, they said.
Deutsche Bank, which has loaned the Trump Organization family business millions of dollars for real-estate ventures, late last month rejected demands by Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives to provide details of Trump's finances, citing privacy laws.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Trump's pick to replace Comey at the FBI, Christopher Wray. The full Senate was expected to confirm Wray before its August recess.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said at the hearing that Trump's latest comments raised troubling questions about the independence and credibility of the Justice Department.
"Now what happens next as members close to the president, his own administration, and his family are being asked critical questions?" Durbin asked. "We have to make it clear that no one in this country, including the president of the United States, is above the law."
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Julia Edwards Ainsley; Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis)