Flashback: How Jeff Sessions & Donald Trump’s Relationship Soured


November 7, 2018

On November 7, one day after the 2018 midterm elections, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions submitted his resignation letter to President Donald Trump, at Trump’s request.

“We have operated with integrity and have lawfully and aggressively advanced the policy agenda of this administration,” Sessions wrote in his letter to the president.

Sessions’ exit is the latest turn in a tumultuous relationship between the two men that took off back on the Trump campaign trail.

As FRONTLINE recounted in the October documentary Trump’s Showdown, Sessions — a long-serving Republican lawmaker from Alabama — was the first senator to endorse then-candidate Trump: “He was invaluable to the campaign in helping to get President Trump elected,” J.D. Gordon, a former national security and foreign policy advisor for the Trump campaign, told FRONTLINE.

“Because Sessions endorsed Trump, Trump didn’t have to prove that he was a conservative because Jeff Sessions is sort of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for a lot of conservatives, particularly in the South where Trump was very successful,” Cameron Smith, a former Sessions aide, told FRONTLINE in this excerpt:

Trump would go on to appoint Sessions as his attorney general. But as FRONTLINE recounted in this sequence from Trump’s Showdown, the president’s feelings towards Sessions soured when the new attorney general recused himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference.

“I think there’s frustration there, frustration that he appointed somebody to be loyal, and that person abdicated responsibility,” Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz told FRONTLINE:

Though Sessions would help to further Trump’s crackdowns on immigration and gang crime at the Department of Justice, his role as a public and private target of the president’s ire would only grow. In fact, insiders told FRONTLINE in the below scene that Sessions nearly quit after being berated by Trump when Mueller’s appointment was announced:

For more on Sessions’ rocky relationship with the president, and the president’s battles with the Department of Justice, the special counsel, and the FBI, stream Trump’s Showdown in full.

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that Sessions and Trump’s relationship began prior to Trump’s presidential campaign.

Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE



In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

A Timeline of Domestic Extremism in the U.S., from Charlottesville to January 6
According to data from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, there were 405 terror attacks or plots in the U.S. from 2015 through 2020 — more than double the total number in the previous decade. A timeline of significant incidents tracks how domestic extremism has evolved in recent years.
April 21, 2021
Derek Chauvin is convicted of killing George Floyd in Minneapolis, cuffed and sent to prison
The conviction, almost a year after a bystander video captured Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes, was the first time in Minnesota history that a white police officer was convicted of killing a Black civilian on the job.
April 20, 2021
Chauvin Trial Lawyers Bring Everything Together in Closing Arguments on Floyd's Death
After 45 witnesses and 14 days of testimony in the Hennepin County District Court trial, two lawyers will make their closing arguments, the final words the jurors hear from them before retreating behind closed doors to deliberate.
April 17, 2021
Of the 5 States with the Most Farmworkers, Only 3 Are Prioritizing Vaccines — and Not All Means of Prioritizing Are Equal, per the CDC
Months after the July 2020 film "COVID's Hidden Toll," FRONTLINE checked in with farmworkers in California and four other big agricultural states and found vaccine rollouts have been uneven.
April 16, 2021