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Trump talks privately about the idea of a recess appointment to replace Sessions

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions leaves the West Wing after a meeting at the White House on July 26, 2017 in Washington. In recent tweets President Trump has signaled his displeasure with Sessions' job performance.

President Trump has discussed with confidants and advisers in recent days the possibility of installing a new attorney general through a recess appointment if Jeff Sessions leaves the job, but he has been warned not to move to push him out because of the political and legal ramifications, according to people briefed on the conversations.

Still raging over Sessions’s recusal from the Justice Department’s escalating Russia investigation, Trump has been talking privately about how he might replace Sessions and possibly sidestep Senate oversight, four people familiar with the issue said.

Two of those people, however, described Trump as musing about the idea rather than outlining a plan of action, and a senior White House official said no action is imminent. Several people familiar with the discussions said Trump’s fury peaked over the weekend and that he and Sessions now seem to be heading toward an uneasy detente.

When asked Wednesday about the president’s discussions of a recess appointment, the White House released a one-sentence denial from Trump: “More fake news from the Amazon Washington Post.”

Those who have discussed Sessions this week with Trump or with top West Wing officials have drawn different conclusions from their conversations — in part because the president ruminates aloud and floats hypotheticals, often changing his views hour to hour.

Some advisers have come away convinced that Trump is determined to ultimately remove Sessions and is seriously considering a recess appointment to replace him — an idea that has been discussed on some of the cable news shows the president watches. These advisers said Trump would prefer that the attorney general resign rather than have to be fired.

“My understanding is the Sessions thing ends with Sessions leaving the attorney general job to go spend more time with his family,” said one outside counselor to the White House, who, like many other people interviewed, requested anonymity because the subject is highly sensitive.

But others involved in the discussions have concluded that Trump is merely venting with his continued assault against Sessions — one described it as “an emotional exercise,” while another called it “just a rough-up job.” They said Trump has neither fully articulated nor set in motion a plan to replace Sessions.

Trump has long confided privately what he began to say publicly last week — that he blames Sessions’s recusal for setting in motion the appointment of Robert Mueller as the special counsel of the Russia probe, which the president sees as unfair and a metastasizing problem for himself and his family.

Sessions has shown no indication of stepping aside voluntarily and was at the White House Wednesday for unrelated meetings with other officials.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the incoming White House press secretary, told reporters Wednesday that Trump was “disappointed” in Sessions but also said, “You can be disappointed in someone but still want them to continue to do their job, and that’s where they are.”

Sanders added, “He wants him to lead the Department of Justice … He wants him to focus on things like immigration, leaks and a number of other issues.”

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who has spoken with Trump this week, said he believes the president’s attacks will quiet down. “My read of him and the people around him is probably, in the end, it will be calm and we’ll move forward,” he said.

Asked whether he believes Sessions will leave the Justice Department, Gingrich said, “No, no … I really don’t think so.” But he acknowledged that he cannot be certain until the president makes up his mind. “He is really mad,” Gingrich added.

Several lawyers around Trump have been urging the president to stop his saber-rattling against Sessions and Mueller, according to three advisers. The president has countered that he believes the probe is a mere political attack — a “witch hunt” and “hoax,” as he often says on Twitter — and that he has no legal jeopardy to worry about.

But several lawyers have told Trump that his comments send a signal to Mueller that the president is trying to shut down or curtail the investigation, as though he does have something to hide.

Trump has largely shrugged off these concerns. “In his mind, he is his own best advocate, his own best lawyer,” one adviser said. “He’s not willing to let the Mueller probe and other events unfold without taking action himself. ”

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