Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he plans to continue as attorney general "as long as that is appropriate," a day after President Donald Trump said in a New York Times interview that he would not have nominated Sessions if he had known he would recuse himself from any Russia investigation at the Justice Department.
"I have the honor of serving as attorney general. It's something that goes beyond any thought I would have ever had for myself. We love this job. We love this department, and I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate," Sessions said at a press conference on cybersecurity on Tuesday morning.
Despite Trump's comments in the Times interview, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in Thursday's White House press briefing that the president remains confident in Sessions. “Clearly he has confidence in him or he would not be the attorney general,” Sanders said.
Trump criticized Sessions' decision in March to step away from matters related to last year's presidential election in a long interview with the Times published on Wednesday, going so far as to express regret over appointing him to lead the Department of Justice.
"Sessions 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," Trump told the Times.
He added, "If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, 'Thanks, Jeff, but I'm not going to take you.' It's extremely unfair — and that's a mild word — to the president."
Sessions steadfastly maintained Thursday that he would continue his work, even as reporters asked about Trump's comments.
"We in this Department of Justice will continue every single day to work hard to serve the national interests, and we wholeheartedly join in the priorities of President Trump," said Sessions.
The investigation into Russian meddling in the election — and any possible ties to the Trump campaign — was a central focus of the Times interview, with the president repeating previous assertions that he is not personally being scrutinized.
"I don't think we're under investigation," he said. "I'm not under investigation. For what? I didn't do anything wrong."
He made the comments despite reports that special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether Trump obstructed justice by firing then–FBI Director James Comey. In the Times interview, Trump levied accusations of a conflict of interest among members of Mueller's team, decrying that some made campaign donations to his former rival Hillary Clinton.
He discussed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who, given Sessions' recusal, acts as the head of the Justice Department on Russia-related matters. Trump appeared to presume a connection between Rosenstein's political allegiances and his previous work as the U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, with an office in Baltimore.
"There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any," said Trump in the interview.
A search of Maryland voter registration records found that a person with Rosenstein's first, middle and last names and date of birth is registered with the Republican Party and does not live in Baltimore. U.S. attorneys are federally, not locally, appointed.
Asked for his opinion on the president's criticism on Thursday, Rosenstein echoed Sessions' answers, stating that he was "proud" to work for the Justice Department now and into the future and would spend "every minute working to advance the interests of the department."
Also in the Times interview, Trump provided details about his dinner conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin at last week's G-20 summit — news of which surfaced Monday. Trump said the length of the discussion "could be 15 minutes" and that a topic included "Russian adoption."
"Which is interesting, because it was a part of the conversation that Don had in that meeting," said Trump, referring to a June 2016 meeting that his son Donald Trump Jr. had with a Russian attorney, at which he believed he would receive incriminating information about Clinton.