An obviously angry President Donald Trump is keeping up his Twitter offensive against perceived enemies, including a fierce attack against his own attorney general, prompting condemnation from even Republican Party leaders and usually loyal conservative media outlets.
A day after raising eyebrows with a description of Attorney General Jeff Sessions as "beleaguered," Trump went several steps further Tuesday, leaving little doubt he wanted Sessions to resign.
Over the past months, Trump has repeatedly expressed impatience with the lack of progress on investigations he has touted, while the probe into his campaign's alleged ties to Russia has been in the headlines daily.
In his Tuesday tweets, Trump questioned Sessions' commitment to Justice Department investigations into intelligence leaks; suggested the attorney general was not pushing hard enough on probes of alleged sabotage against his campaign, as well as what he called "Hillary Clinton crimes"; and attacked the integrity of acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe.
Trump's newly named communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, acknowledged in a morning interview that the president was "obviously frustrated."
Speaking to conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt, Scaramucci agreed with Hewitt's statement that Trump wanted Sessions to leave.
"I have an enormous amount of respect for the attorney general, but I do know the president pretty well, and if there's this level of tension in the relationship that's public, you're probably right," Scaramucci said.
Republicans and Democrats alike responded with alarm to the latest presidential outbursts.
Republican Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina called Trump's tweets "inappropriate." Sessions is "one of the most decent men I've ever met in my political life," Graham said.
Other GOP senators also jumped to defend their former colleague, who spent 20 years in the Senate. Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, said, "He's a man of purpose and integrity. I hope he holds on, but that would be up to him and the president. But I tell you what, he'd be hard to replace."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Trump of trying to bully Sessions out of office.
"Even if the president has disagreements with him, which I think are ill-founded and self-centered and wrong, you don't ridicule him in public, someone who is your close friend. That speaks to character," Schumer said.
The New York Democrat told reporters it appeared that Trump wanted to sabotage the investigation into Russia's interference in last November's election.
"Many Americans must be wondering if the president is trying to pry open the office of attorney general to appoint someone during the August recess who will fire special counsel [Robert] Mueller and shut down the Russian investigation," Schumer said.
Even Breitbart News, a conservative news outlet that has close ties to the White House and has been a staunch Trump supporter, faulted his attacks on Sessions, saying they "only serve to highlight Trump's own hypocrisy" on the issue of political scandals. The article noted that Trump's criticism was likely to fuel concerns from his base supporters, who have been fiercely loyal during his tempestuous first six months in office.
Outbursts in real time
Students of the presidency say presidential fits of anger are historically not unusual.
Dan Mahaffee, director of policy at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, a nonprofit education agency in Washington, said White House memoirs are filled with stories of conflict, infighting and intrigue. But at least until the era of Oval Office recordings, those stories were told long after the fact.
Now, he said, everything reaches the public in real time via Twitter.
"This is unprecedented," Mahaffee said. "Previously, the communications of the president and disagreements among advisers they would try to keep as closely held as possible and wait till four years after the administration to appear in a memoir."
Mahaffee noted that Trump's fury at Sessions had been building since the attorney general recused himself from the Russia election-tampering probe in March.
"I don't think Trump or his legal advisers have been able to fully grasp why that decision [to recuse] had to be made," he said. "It raises questions of, whether it's ego or some self-preservation, why Trump is so concerned about this probe by the Justice Department."