May 31, 2018

Scoop: Trump repeatedly pressured Sessions on Mueller investigation

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

President Trump pressured Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reclaim control of the Russia investigation on at least four separate occasions, three times in person and once over the phone, according to sources familiar with the conversations.

Why it matters: The fact that there were multiple conversations shows that Trump's pressure on Sessions to stop recusing himself was heavier than previously known. The sustained pressure made several officials uncomfortable, because they viewed it as improper and worry that it could be politically and legally problematic.

What we're hearing: The New York Times this week reported on one of these conversations— which occurred at Mar-a-Lago in March 2017 — and said Robert Mueller is investigating it. But Trump’s other direct conversations with Sessions about the subject have not been previously reported.

  • A source with knowledge of the conversations said they occurred throughout last year, until fairly late in the year — not just in the short period after Sessions recused himself last March.

The details: Two sources familiar with the conversations told me the president never, to their knowledge, ordered Sessions to cancel his recusal from the Russia investigation. Instead, he asked Sessions whether he’d “thought about” un-recusing himself.

  • Trump told Sessions he’d be a “hero” to conservatives if he did the “right thing” and took back control over the Russia investigation, according to two sources with knowledge of their conversations.
  • Trump also told Sessions he’d be a hero if he investigated Hillary Clinton, according to one of the sources.

Trump also repeated the “hero” line separately to aides and privately mused about whether it would be possible to limit the scope of the Mueller investigation to avoid his business affairs.

The White House declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for Sessions.

“It’s not just payback; it’s punishment. It’s never enough to win. There’s never too much blood. There’s never too many guts on the floor. That’s his mentality. If you give him a paper cut he'll never forget that paper cut.”
— Source who talks frequently to Trump

Behind the scenes: Four sources with direct knowledge told me Trump has been obsessed by the Mueller investigation over the past year. That’s been clear from his tweets. But privately he’s been brooding about it so persistently, people close to him worry he can’t help but make the situation worse for himself.

He views the phrase “witch hunt” as his PR branding of the investigation, but he also truly believes he has been wronged. Much of his desire for investigating Clinton and Barack Obama comes from a desire for retribution, sources who have discussed the matter with Trump told me.

Trump takes out much of his anger on the White House Counsel Don McGahn, according to sources who’ve watched them interact. McGahn made it clear to White House staff from the outset that he was the person who should be communicating with the Justice Department.

The New York Times first reported that McGahn, following Trump’s orders, lobbied Sessions to remain in charge of the Russia investigation. A source with knowledge of their conversations shared more details with Axios:

  • McGahn spoke to Sessions about the recusal before Sessions decided to recuse himself. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Sessions told McGahn he was considering recusal and McGahn asked the Attorney General whether he’d exhausted all his options, and whether he’d looked at the Department of Justice guidelines carefully.
  • Sessions told McGahn he’d already asked Justice Department ethics officials for their opinion. “At that point Don said, ‘well I’m out of it’,” the source said.

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GM to exit Australia, New Zealand and Thailand

GM's Holden brand is popular among racing fans down under, and it's been a regular fixture at events like the Bathurst 1000 V8 Supercar Race in Australia. Photo: Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

General Motors is retiring its celebrated Holden brand from sales in Australia and New Zealand after 160 years and winding down operations by 2021, the company confirmed in a statement Monday.

The big picture: GM also intends to "sell its Rayong factory in Thailand to China's Great Wall Motors and withdraw the Chevrolet brand from Thailand by the end of this year," AP reports. "The downsizing is part of a long-running strategy at GM since the Detroit-based company emerged from bankruptcy in 2009," per Bloomberg.

In photos: Deadly Storm Dennis lashes U.K., Ireland and western France

A family is rescued from a property in Nantgarw, Wales, on Sunday. The storm comes a week after the U.K. was battered by storm Ciara, which killed two people, per the BBC. Photo: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Storm Dennis continued to pummel parts of England, Wales and Ireland over Sunday night with heavy rain after battering Northern Ireland and Scotland, per the official British weather agency the Met Office.

Why it matters: It's the second-strongest nontropical storm ever recorded in the North Atlantic Ocean, with its hurricane-force winds and heavy rains that caused widespread flooding across the U.K., the Washington Post notes. Police in Wales confirmed Sunday they found the body of a man who fell into a river as the storm lashed Ystradgynlais.

Sanders accuses Bloomberg of trying to "buy" the 2020 election

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mike Bloomberg. Photos: Drew Angerer; Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders tore into 2020 rival Michael Bloomberg at a Las Vegas campaign event Saturday, saying the billionaire and former New York mayor is trying to "buy the presidency" by paying millions of dollars in advertising.

Why it matters: Bloomberg has surged in national polling recently, having poured millions of dollars into campaign ads largely targeting Trump. His candidacy has become an obvious foil for Sanders, whose grassroots campaign railing against billionaires and the establishment has vaulted him to front-runner status.

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