Special counsel Robert Mueller is aware of an unsuccessful attempt by President Donald Trump to lobby Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Justice Department's Russia probe, The New York Times reported Thursday.
The Times, citing two people with knowledge of the episode, said Trump had ordered White House counsel Don McGahn last March to stop Sessions from recusing himself from oversight of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
At the time, Sessions faced mounting calls for recusal given his support for the Trump campaign and the revelation of an omission during his confirmation hearing about contacts with Sergey Kislyak, who was the Russian ambassador to the US at the time.
While widely reported on, the government did not confirm the existence of the investigation until then-FBI Director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee later in March 2017 that there was an ongoing investigation into potential coordination between Trump's associates and Russia to influence the 2016 election.
Sessions announced he would recuse himself from all matters relating to the investigation in early March. Politicians, including Republicans, praised the decision at the time, but Trump has publicly rebuked his attorney general and said he wished Sessions had not recused.
The Times reported Thursday that after McGahn was unsuccessful at getting Sessions not to recuse, Trump became angry and said he needed an attorney general to protect him.
Sessions' recusal left Justice Department oversight of the probe to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed former FBI director Mueller to be special counsel after Trump fired Comey in May 2017.
Sessions said in summer 2017 he was "confident" he had made the right decision about recusal -- and as some Republicans called Thursday for his ouster, some top Democrats, in a major shift, have suggested Sessions should stay to avoid interference with the special counsel probe.