U.S. President Donald Trump blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions Wednesday, labelling the country's top law enforcement official "disgraceful" over his handling of White House allegations of illegal wiretapping.
It was the second critical tweet in a week against Sessions, who reportedly submitted his resignation at least once last year after Trump insulted him.
Trump questioned Sessions' commitment to Republican demands that he investigate the use of so-called FISA national security warrants in 2016, when Barack Obama was president, to wiretap members of Trump's election campaign team over their contacts with Russia.
On Tuesday, Sessions said he had ordered the inspector general of the Justice Department to look into whether the highly secretive FISA warrant process was abused.
"Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse," Trump asked in a tweet.
"Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn't the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!" Trump said.
In a statement, Sessions fired back, calling his decision "the appropriate process" for complaints against the Justice Department.
"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 said.
But Trump's broadside was a reminder that the president has been unhappy with his hand-picked attorney general since Sessions recused himself almost a year ago from a probe into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The outbursts may reflect Trump's mounting fear or frustration as the investigation, led by independent special prosecutor Robert Mueller, focuses increasingly on the president's inner circle and possibly Trump himself.
Last week Trump took aim at the attorney general over the direction of that probe.
"Question: If all of the Russian meddling took place during the Obama Administration, right up to January 20th, why aren't they the subject of the investigation?" he wrote.
"Why aren't Dem[ocrat] crimes under investigation? Ask Jeff Sessions!" Trump wrote.
- Key administration figure -
Sessions's statement was possibly his toughest rebuff yet to criticism from the White House.
The former Alabama senator, 71, joined Trump's 2016 campaign early on.
Conservative and methodical, the former prosecutor has been a stalwart enforcer of keynote administration policies like cracking down on illegal immigration, violent gang crime and drugs, and installing conservative judges and prosecutors across the justice system.
But Trump has frequently targeted Sessions over Mueller's operation, which is also examining whether Trump has obstructed the Russia investigation.
Because he was part of the campaign, Sessions recused himself in March 2017 from overseeing the probe, infuriating Trump.
Former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus said he had to convince Sessions at least once last year to rescind a decision to resign, and rescued him from being fired on two other occasions.
Priebus told Chris Whipple for his upcoming book "The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency," that Sessions submitted his resignation in May 2017 after Trump called him an "idiot" in the Oval Office following Mueller's appointment.
Priebus and Vice President Mike Pence convinced Sessions to stay, and then persuaded Trump to reject the resignation letter, according to an excerpt of the book published in Vanity Fair.
Two months later, according to Priebus, Trump, frustrated over the Mueller probe, had to be talked out of firing Sessions, whom he had labelled "weak."
No favorite of Democrats, Sessions garnered support Wednesday nevertheless over his taut relations with the president.
"The fact that an independent investigation is a problem for this #POTUS sums up his failure to grasp how law enforcement is supposed to function in America," said Senator Pat Leahy, using an acronym for the president.