Justice Dept. Rank-and-File Tell of Discontent Over Sessions’s Approach

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Justice Dept. Rank-and-File Tell of Discontent Over Sessions’s Approach

The president has also frequently targeted Rod J. Rosenstein, who as deputy attorney general oversees the day-to-day operations at the department as well as the special counsel investigation. In a turnabout this month, Mr. Trump declared his relationship with Mr. Rosenstein good, to the relief of some federal prosecutors. To them, Mr. Rosenstein’s office symbolizes the department’s independence because he oversees its inquiries into the president and his inner circle.

More unnerving, employees said, was the president’s threat to remove the security clearance of Bruce Ohr, a civil servant who worked to combat Russian mobs and oligarchs. The message, said one lawyer in the criminal division: Doing your job can make you vulnerable to a career-ending attack.

Two former attorneys said that they stepped away from Russia-related work as a result.

“The underlying message from Trump is that department employees are either enemies of the White House or vassals doing its bidding,” said Norman L. Eisen, who served as special counsel for ethics and government reform under Mr. Obama. Mr. Eisen is co-counsel for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit accusing Mr. Trump of violating the Constitution by maintaining a stake in his hotel in Washington.

As a target of Mr. Trump’s high-profile rebukes, Mr. Sessions has gained cautious support even from some rank-and-file lawyers who find his culture wars zeal distasteful. They cited instances where he pushed back on Mr. Trump’s broadsides and his simply enduring months of presidential invective.

Internal events intended to boost morale have also proved tense. Guy Benson, a Fox News commentator, was chosen to speak at a gay pride event over the objections of the department’s L.G.B.T. affinity group, DOJ Pride, Justice Department lawyers said.

DOJ Pride members held a separate event, where one employee spoke about how progress for L.G.B.T. Americans had regressed under Mr. Trump. Department officials would not comment on the episode.

Some of the lawyers interviewed also said that departures of respected leaders and longtime career lawyers has weakened morale. Besides Ms. Flynn, Mr. McElvain and Mr. Buckingham, others who left included Doug Letter, the head of the civil appellate branch, and David Laufman, the chief of the counterintelligence section.

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