WASHINGTON -- President Trump has spoken with advisers about firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions as he continues to rage against Sessions' decision to recuse himself from all matters related to the Russia investigation, according to reports.
The president's anger again bubbled into public view Monday as he referred to Sessions in a tweet as "beleaguered."
Privately, Mr. Trump has speculated aloud to allies in recent days about the potential consequences of firing Sessions, three people who have recently spoken to the president told The Associated Press. They demanded anonymity to discuss the private conversations.
The Washington Post, citing people familiar with the talks, says "some confidants" are discussing possible replacements.
Mr. Trump often talks about making staff changes without following through, so those who have spoken with the president cautioned that a change may not be imminent or happen at all. What is clear is that Mr. Trump remains furious that the attorney general recused himself from the investigations.
"So why aren't the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?" Mr. Trump tweeted Monday. His tweet came just hours before his son-in-law, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, traveled to Capitol Hill to be interviewed about his meetings with Russians.
Later, at a photo op with interns, the president was asked whether Sessions should resign. The president rolled his eyes.
Mr. Trump's intensifying criticism has fueled speculation that Sessions may quit even if Mr. Trump opts not to fire him. During an event at the White House, Mr. Trump ignored a shouted question about whether Sessions should step down.
But the attorney general said last week he intended to stay in his post, and CBS News Justice Department reporter Paula Reid says Sessions still has no plans to resign. The attorney general has been working seven days a week, and does not plan to take an August vacation, eschewing the custom of his two predecessors in the job.
If Mr. Trump were to fire Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would be elevated to the top post on an acting basis. That would leave the president with another attorney general of whom he has been sharply critical in both public and private for his handling of the Russia probe, according to four White House and outside advisers who, like others interviewed, spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
It could also raise the specter of Mr. Trump asking Rosenstein - or whomever he appoints to fill the position - to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and potential collusion with Mr. Trump's campaign. Rosenstein is the official who named Mueller to his special counsel post to begin with.
The name of one longtime Trump ally, Rudy Giuliani, was floated Monday as a possible replacement for Sessions, but a person who recently spoke to the former New York City mayor said Giuliani hadn't been approached about the position. Giuliani told CNN Monday he didn't want the post and would have recused himself had he been in Sessions' position.
Another name that's come up as a possibler replacement is that of Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, but his office issued a statement saying, "Jeff Sessions is a friend and a strong conservative. I was proud to vote to confirm Jeff and to vigorously defend his confirmation, and I'm deeply gratified that we have a principled conservative like Jeff Sessions serving as Attorney General. The stories being reported in the media tonight are false. My focus is and will remain on fighting every day to defend 28 million Texans in the U.S. Senate."
The president's tweet about the former Alabama senator comes less than a week after Mr. Trump, in a New York Times interview, said Sessions should never have taken the job as attorney general if he was going to recuse himself. Sessions made that decision after it was revealed that he had met with a top Russian diplomat last year.
Mr. Trump has seethed about Sessions' decision for months, viewing it as disloyal - arguably the most grievous offense in the president's mind - and resenting that the attorney general didn't give the White House a proper heads-up before making the announcement that he would recuse himself. His fury has been fanned by several close confidants - including his son, Donald Mr. Trump Jr., who is also ensnared in the Russia probe - who are angry that Sessions made his decision.
Mr. Trump and Sessions' conversations in recent weeks have been infrequent. Sessions had recently asked senior White House staff how he might patch up relations with the president but that effort did not go anywhere, according to a person briefed on the conversations.
Newt Gingrich, a frequent Trump adviser, said the president, with his criticisms of Sessions, was simply venting and being "honest about his feelings. But that doesn't mean he's going to do anything."
Still, he said the president's comments would have repercussions when it comes to staff morale. "Anybody who is good at team building would suggest to the president that attacking members of your team rattles the whole team," Gingrich said.
Sessions and Mr. Trump used to be close, sharing both a friendship and an ideology. Sessions risked his reputation when he became the first U.S. senator to endorse the celebrity businessman and his early backing gave Mr. Trump legitimacy, especially among the hard-line anti-immigration forces that bolstered his candidacy. Several of Sessions' top aides now serve in top administration posts, including Stephen Miller, the architect of several of Mr. Trump's signature proposals, including the travel ban and tough immigration policy.
Armand DeKeyser, who worked closely with Sessions and became his chief of staff in the Senate, said he didn't see the attorney general as someone who would easily cave to criticism, even from the president.
"If Jeff thinks he is in an untenable position and cannot be an effective leader, I believe he would leave," DeKeyser said. "But I don't think he's reached that point."
But Anthony Scaramucci, the president's new communications director, said it's time for Mr. Trump and Sessions to hash out a resolution, regardless of what they decide.
"My own personal opinion, I think they've got to have a meeting and have a reconciliation one way or another. You know what I mean? Either stay or go, one way or another," he said.
The Justice Department declined to comment