WASHINGTON -- Even as President Donald Trump has raged at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, calling his actions "disgraceful" this week, Sessions arguably has done more to deliver on Trump's hard-right agenda than any other member of the Cabinet.
From immigration enforcement to battling sanctuary cities, from opposing marijuana legalization to stopping what Trump labeled "carnage in America" in his inaugural speech, Sessions has proved a stalwart ally, if only because the issues were already part of his own conservative political agenda.
After months of silently enduring Trump's taunts and tweets -- mocking the attorney general as "very weak" and "beleaguered," and all but inviting him to quit -- Sessions raised eyebrows this week when he publicly pushed back for the first time.
In a Justice Department statement Wednesday, Sessions suggested the president had gone too far by questioning his decision to refer an internal dispute over a surveillance warrant to the department's inspector general, as regulations require, rather than to its prosecutors, as Trump had demanded earlier that day on Twitter.
"As long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution," he wrote.
Trump has made no secret of his anger ever since Sessions stepped aside last March from supervising the Russia investigation that has cast a dark cloud over the White House, a decision that Trump apparently viewed as a betrayal of Sessions' loyalty to him.
Despite Sessions' hard-right bona fides -- he was considered one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate during his four terms in office -- other conservatives have begun to pile on. Even his one-time Senate colleague from Alabama, fellow Republican Richard Shelby, hinted that it might be time for Sessions to walk.
"I wouldn't stay at all unless the president wanted me to stay, if he appointed me," Shelby said Thursday on Fox News. "I wouldn't be anybody's whipping boy."
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders offered little in the way of reassurance, saying, "The president has made his frustrations very clear." Asked if Trump wants Sessions to resign, she said, "Not that I know of."
Sessions has shown no sign he's about to give in. Friends and associates say he is willing to endure the abuse to stand up for the Justice Department and the rule of law, and continue his mission of remaking its policies to fit his deeply conservative, tough-on-crime philosophy.