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Trump declines to endorse Jeff Sessions' Senate bid -- but doesn't deliver death knell

John T. Bennett, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump on Friday declined to endorse Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general he fired after several clashes, as the Alabama Republican seeks the Senate seat he held for decades before joining the administration.

But he also did not demand the former AG end his bid on its first full day, giving Sessions' campaign life -- because of "nice" things the Alabaman said about the president on television. As he departed the White House for fundraisers and an event with black voters, he also told reporters during another wild "Chopper Talk" gaggle he is "kicking their ass," referring to House Democrats in their impeachment probe.

Trump, before eventually ousting Sessions, slammed the country's top law enforcement official for recusing himself from former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller's Russia election meddling probe. Sessions had had communications with a top Russian diplomat while advising the president's 2016 campaign; the president felt Sessions should have overseen the investigation.

Democratic lawmakers, however, charged Trump with wanting a political ally over whom he had direct control and the ability to give instructions to keep Mueller on a tight leash. The clash cost Sessions his job and sent him into a retirement he announced this week he intends to cut short with a Senate run. In the deep red Yellowhammer State, Trump's endorsement could seal the Republican nomination for a candidate.

"I saw he said very nice things about me last night," Trump said, referring to Sessions' campaign kick-off video and a Fox News interview that both featured the former AG praising his former boss. "I haven't gotten involved. ... I haven't made a determination."

Notably, the president did not deride Sessions during the impromptu gaggle on the South Lawn, which could have been a death knell for the campaign before it really gets started.

 

"We'll see," he said of an endorsement before setting himself up as a kingmaker: "You have some very good people running in Alabama. Let's see what happens."

Sessions praised Trump when he launched his campaign, saying in a statement, "As everyone knows, President Trump and I have had our ups and downs. But here's the important part: the President is doing great work for America."

Sessions continued to praise Trump on Fox News Thursday night, saying his time at the Justice Department was "actually a great experience" and he did not regret leaving the Senate to become Attorney General. Sessions also noted that he was an early supporter of the president. He was the first sitting senator to endorse Trump as a candidate.

Sessions' decision to run could shake up the crowded GOP primary field, but some of the top candidates have indicated they will remain in the race -- and try to tar Sessions as insufficiently loyal to Trump.

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