Senate candidate Rep. Mo Brooks on Wednesday came to the defense of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, chucking his strategy of cozying up to President Trump out the window with three weeks to go before the Alabama special GOP primary.
Brooks, challenging appointed Sen. Luther Strange for the right to finish the remainder of the Senate term Sessions gave up to become attorney general, has been playing defense in the race over his tepid support for Trump in the 2016 presidential race. The congressman endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the primary and kept Trump at arm's length during the general election.
Strange, who is chasing Trump's endorsement — the gold seal of approval for Republicans in Alabama — has made that the central line of attack against Brooks, with the congressman rebuffing the critique as unfair until this week, when he lit into the president for publicly questioning Sessions' personal integrity and professional acumen.
"I cannot remain silent about the treatment Jeff Sessions is receiving from President Trump," Brooks said in a statement issued by his campaign. "If the President has reservations about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that is okay. No two people agree all the time. But President Trump should raise his reservations with Attorney General Sessions privately, man to man, one on one, not publicly scorn a great man like this."
"I support President Trump's policies," Brooks added. "But this public waterboarding of one of the greatest people Alabama has ever produced is inappropriate and insulting to the people of Alabama who know Jeff Sessions so well and elected him so often by overwhelming margins."
Strange also came to Sessions' defense, but his statement avoided direct criticism of Trump.
"Jeff Sessions is my mentor, a great friend, and a man of the utmost integrity. His example of leadership inspired me to run for public office in Alabama, and continues to merit the admiration of his team at DOJ, his former colleagues in the Senate, and our great state," Strange said. "Jeff and President Trump are trying to make America great again," he continued. "And it's a privilege to work along side both to accomplish the Trump agenda for the American people, and we need to stop letting the media distract us from that agenda."
In a statement provided to the Washington Examiner by the Strange's campaign, the senator called Brooks' gambit a sign of desperation.
"This is what a candidate does when he learns he's plummeted to a distant third and is desperate to get attention. Shame on Congressman Brooks for his lack of faith in President Trump's and Attorney General Sessions' commitment to work together to make America great again," Strange said.
In a sign that Brooks' campaign could indeed be faltering, his statement included an offer to exit the Senate special in the event that Trump fires Sessions, if the other candidates join him, and clear the way for the attorney general to reclaim the seat he held for 20 years.
Sessions is a beloved Republican figure in Alabama, a state that was among Trump's most loyal strongholds in the presidential campaign. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump, a crucial boost to the New York Republican early on.
"I offer to withdraw completely from the race for Senate if my other GOP opponents in this race will concur on the terms and conditions set forth in the accompanying 'Resolution Reinstating Jeff Sessions as United States Senator,'" Brooks said.
The special Senate primary in Alabama is Aug. 15. The two top finishers will advance to a runoff in September. Brooks, Strange, and former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore are considered the top three contenders.