President Donald Trump berated Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an Oval Office meeting minutes after learning the Robert Mueller had been appointed special counsel in May — prompting "an ashen and emotional" Sessions to offer his resignation, The New York Times reported Thursday.
Trump, who refused to accept the resignation, accused Sessions of "disloyalty," the Times reported, before he "unleashed a string of insults on his attorney general."
In addition, "Sessions would later tell associates that the demeaning way the president addressed him was the most humiliating experience in decades of public life," according to the report.
Sessions recused himself from the Justice Department's Russia probe in March, amid concerns about his disclosures about meetings with a Russian ambassador last year.
That move eventually led to Mueller's appointment after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey earlier in May.
The Times said it based its account on "interviews with seven administration officials and others familiar with the interactions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Sessions in recent months who requested anonymity because they are not permitted to speak publicly about confidential conversations between the president and his aides."
President Trump rejected Sessions' resignation after Vice President Mike Pence and several other senior White House advisers at the time "argued that dismissing the attorney general would only create more problems for a president who had already fired an F.B.I. director and a national security adviser," the Times reported.
In July, Trump told aides again that he wanted to fire Sessions, "but for a second time didn't take action," according to the report.
The Times said the Trump-Sessions relationship has only "improved marginally since midsummer."
Representatives for both the White House and Justice Department declined to comment.
According to the report, the Oval Office meeting was held on May 17 and was to discuss replacements for Comey.
Besides Pence and Sessions, White House counsel Donald McGahn and several other aides were present.
During the meeting, McGahn received a call from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, telling him that he was naming Mueller to head the Moscow probe, according to the report.
McGahn then disclosed the information to the group — and "almost immediately, Mr. Trump lobbed a volley of insults at Mr. Sessions, telling the attorney general it was his fault they were in the current situation," the Times reported.
Trump also told Sessions that "choosing him to be attorney general was one of the worst decisions he had made, called him an 'idiot,' and said that he should resign."
Sessions said he would resign before leaving the meeting. He wrote his resignation letter as the Justice Department announced Mueller's appointment.
"A person familiar with the events raised the possibility that Mr. Sessions had become emotional because the impact of his recusal was becoming clear," the Times reported.
However, Pence and two other top aides advised Trump against accepting the resignation because it "would only sow more chaos inside the administration and rally Republicans in Congress against the president."
The other advisers were Steve Bannon, the chief strategist whom Trump ousted last month, and Reince Priebus, who earlier resigned as chief of staff, the Times reported.
Sessions, 70, was a five-term Republican senator from Alabama who was one of President Trump's earliest supporters.
However, Trump "relented," the Times reported, "and eventually returned the resignation letter to Mr. Sessions — with a handwritten response on it."
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