President Trump’s campaign is demanding that Jeff Sessions, the former Attorney General, stop attaching himself to the president in his effort to win back his old Senate seat in Alabama, after Mr. Sessions distributed a campaign mailer that mentioned the president 22 times.
In an unusual letter to the Sessions campaign, which was obtained by The New York Times, the Trump campaign called Mr. Sessions’ claim that he is the president’s top supporter “delusional.”
“The Trump campaign has learned that your U.S. Senate campaign is circulating mailers like the one I have enclosed, in which you misleadingly promote your connections to and ‘support’ of President Trump,” Michael Glassner, the Trump campaign’s chief operating officer, wrote in the letter, which was sent on Tuesday.
Mr. Trump has endorsed Tommy Tuberville, a former football coach, over Mr. Sessions in the runoff to be the Republican nominee taking on the incumbent Democrat, Senator Doug Jones, in the fall. The runoff is currently scheduled for July 14.
But Mr. Sessions, who was the first attorney general in the Trump administration, has repeatedly invoked Mr. Trump throughout the campaign, even after Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. Tuberville.
“The enclosed letter and donor form in fact mention President Trump by name 22 times. The letter even makes the delusional assertion that you are President ‘Trump’s #1 supporter,’” Mr. Glassner wrote.
“We only assume your campaign is doing this to confuse President Trump’s loyal supporters in Alabama into believing the president supports your candidacy in the upcoming primary runoff election. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The letter goes on to make clear that Mr. Trump and his campaign “unambiguously endorse Tommy Tuberville,” and concludes, “President Trump and his campaign do not support your efforts to return to the U.S. Senate.”
Gail Gitcho, a spokeswoman for Mr. Sessions’ campaign, said the fund-raising letter was sent on March 6, four days before Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. Tuberville on Twitter.
“Alabamans don’t like to be told what to do,” Ms. Gitcho said, adding, “They have shown that repeatedly. Washington told them to vote for Luther Strange over Roy Moore, they disobeyed. Washington told them to vote for Roy Moore over Doug Jones, they disobeyed. They are a hardheaded and independent lot.” She said that Mr. Sessions “is indeed one of the strongest supporters of President Trump and his agenda” and “no one can change that.”
Mr. Trump has been focused on the Alabama Senate race, consulting in recent weeks about it with his political advisers Bill Stepien, Justin Clark and the White House political director, Brian Jack, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Mr. Trump has a unique level of anger at his former attorney general. In 2017, Mr. Sessions surprised Mr. Trump by recusing himself from the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race.
That recusal led to a series of actions by Mr. Trump that resulted in the appointment of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. Trump, according to a half-dozen current and former advisers, viewed Mr. Sessions’ recusal as an act of disloyalty and a political form of original sin, from which he never recovered.
Mr. Trump fired Mr. Sessions in late 2018.
In the context of his campaign mail pieces, Mr. Sessions and his team may be acting in ways that are more political than delusional. Highlighting a connection to Mr. Trump could help Mr. Sessions with voters in Alabama who haven’t been following the president’s yearslong denigration of the former attorney general and senator, who at one point was the first statewide elected official to support Mr. Trump’s presidential bid.
Despite the vitriol that Mr. Trump has aimed at him on Twitter and at campaign rallies, Mr. Sessions has never publicly criticized the president, the way many former administration officials have.
And trying to create the impression of an endorsement, or support, of a politician popular with one’s own party, when one hasn’t actually earned it, is a tactic that candidates in both parties use often. Most recently, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is running for president, ran a television ad with a voice-over from President Barack Obama that seemed to imply that Mr. Obama was throwing his support to Mr. Sanders. Mr. Obama has not endorsed any candidate in the presidential race.
“They want somebody who is going to fight for them. And they will find it in Bernie,” Mr. Obama says in the ad, without context. “That’s right, feel the Bern.” The ad rankled former Obama aides, but none of them went so far as to send Mr. Sanders a cease and desist letter.
But those advertisements involved a person — Mr. Obama — who hadn’t made an endorsement. And, yet, advisers to Mr. Trump often note that the president agreed to stay out of the primary despite his desire to attack Mr. Sessions, and that Mr. Sessions was being blatantly misleading given the president has made his choice clear.
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