In March, Mr. Sessions said he still believed he did the right thing in recusing himself. “I don’t think the attorney general can ask everybody else in the department to follow the rules if the attorney general doesn’t follow them,” he told Time magazine.
When Mr. Trump said that Mr. Sessions “never took control of the Justice Department,” Mr. Sessions fired back hours later, saying in a rare public rebuke that he “took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in.”
“The Department of Justice,” Mr. Sessions said, “will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”
Mr. Sessions seemed more aligned with the president when he fired Andrew G. McCabe as deputy director of the F.B.I. barely a day before Mr. McCabe was due to retire, jeopardizing his pension. Mr. Trump for months had publicly berated Mr. McCabe, a Republican, because Mr. McCabe’s wife had run for office as a Democrat with financial support from a friend of Mrs. Clinton’s. In firing him, Mr. Sessions cited an inspector general investigation that found that Mr. McCabe had not been fully candid about his interactions with a reporter, an assertion the former deputy director denied.
Mr. Sessions tried to resign at least twice. In June 2017, shortly after his recusal, Mr. Trump berated Mr. Sessions during a private meeting in the Oval Office and accused him of “disloyalty.” Mr. Sessions grew emotional and agreed to resign. Reince Priebus, then the White House chief of staff, later said he ran out of the building to find the attorney general in the parking lot and stop him from leaving.
Ultimately, Mr. Priebus persuaded Mr. Trump not to accept the resignation. Mr. Priebus said he intervened again to save Mr. Sessions a couple of months later when the president again demanded a resignation. “If I get this resignation,” Mr. Priebus remembered telling Mr. Trump, “you are in for a spiral of calamity that makes Comey look like a picnic.”
As attorney general, Mr. Sessions made a forceful mark on the Justice Department. He rolled back some of President Barack Obama’s signature policies as he encouraged federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest possible charges and sentences against criminal suspects. He successfully advised Mr. Trump to rescind Mr. Obama’s program protecting nearly 700,000 young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children. He sued California over its sanctuary laws and targeted states that legalized marijuana.
Mr. Sessions, 71, got his start in politics as a United States attorney in Alabama, but his nomination for a federal judgeship was blocked by the Senate amid charges of racial insensitivity. He mounted a comeback by winning election as the state attorney general and then, in 1996, to the Senate that had once rejected him.