WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions called President Donald Trump's recent criticisms of him "kind of hurtful" Thursday.
In an interview with Fox News' Tucker Carlson, Sessions spoke for the first time about the president's broadsides against him, but maintained he would continue on in his job at the Department of Justice.
"I serve at the pleasure of the president," Sessions said . "If he wants to make a change, he can certainly do so and I would be glad to yield in that circumstance, no doubt about it. But I do believe that we are making tremendous progress."
President Trump, the attorney general said, is "steadfast and determined to get his job done and he wants all of us to do our job. And that's what I intend to do."
Despite a steady stream of tweets and comments from the president in which he expressed his disappointment with Sessions' decision to recuse himself from Russia-related investigations, Sessions still praised Trump as "a strong leader" who "is determined to move this country in the direction he believes it needs to go."
The two men have not yet spoken, though "people have talked about it at the White House," Sessions said, making clear that he still feels he understands the "mission" of this administration.
Trump told The New York Times last week Sessions — one of his earliest campaign supporters — "should have never recused himself. And if he was going to recuse himself he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else."
Thursday, Sessions said he still believed he "made the right decision" in recusing.
Since his initial comments, the president has refused to say if he'll fire Sessions, telling reporters last week that "time will tell" about the attorney general's fate. But top Republicans have warned the president against firing the former Alabama senator from his Department of Justice post.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham warned Thursday that “there will be holy hell to pay” if he fires Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley tweeted Wednesday that the Judiciary Committee will not be able to consider an attorney general nomination this year because their calendar “is set for the rest of 2017.”
And Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., took to the Senate floor to warn Trump that if he's thinking of replacing Sessions with a recess appointment he can "forget about it."
"The presidency isn't a bull, and this country isn't a china shop," Sasse said.
Asked repeatedly what the president intends to do with his attorney general, the White House has said that while Trump is "disappointed" in Sessions' recusal, "he wants him to do his job properly," including getting tough on intelligence leaks.
Sessions promised a press conference next week to discuss criminal leaks.
CORRECTION (July 27, 2017, 6:40 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misspelled Sen. Graham's first name. It is Lindsey, not Lindsay.