washington - They came to praise President Donald Trump, not focus on the controversies engulfing him.

One by one, Trump’s Cabinet members assembled around the table spoke effusively about the president as he sat beaming, soaking it all in at the first formal gathering of his most senior officials at the White House on Monday.

The lavishing of praise and adulation contrasted with the storm enveloping the president as he struggles with myriad crises, including an investigation into possible ties between his election campaign and Russian meddling in the race.

For him, the meeting was a welcome rendering of what he feels are major accomplishments ignored by his detractors, even though major legislative achievements have eluded him thus far.

There was no one more gushing than White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who is frequently the target of criticism from long-time Trump advisers and is often see as just one misstep away from being ousted, even though rumours of his departure have all proved to be premature.

“On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the honor and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people and we’re continuing to work very hard every day to accomplish those goals,” Priebus said.

Trump used the meeting to try to show a sense of momentum for his agenda after weeks of being engulfed in controversy over his May 9 firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was heading the Russia investigation.

“We’ve been about as active as you can possibly be and at a just about record pace,” he said. “In just a very short time we are seeing amazing results. People are surprised. It’s kicking in very fast.”

But one of his greatest adversaries, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, put together a mock video of a meeting with his staff with aides praising Schumer.

“Michelle, how’d my hair look coming out of the gym this morning?” Schumer asks, turning to one staffer. “You have great hair. Nobody has better hair than you,” Michelle said.

Priebus was not alone in using the opportunity to praise Trump. “It is the greatest privilege of my life to serve as vice president. The president is keeping his word to the American people,” said Vice President Mike Pence.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, noting the comments from other officials who said they had recently been abroad, noted wryly: “While we are bragging about international travel I just got back from Mississippi and they like you there.”

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who as governor of South Carolina had endorsed Trump opponent Marco Rubio last year, called it “a new day at the United Nations” with Trump in power.

“We now have a very strong voice. People know what the United States is for. They know what we are against. And they see us in a new way across the board. I think the international community knows we are back,” she said.

Trump's attorney general Sessions faces Russia grilling

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before Congress Tuesday in another point of high drama regarding the Russia election meddling probe, under pressure to explain his role in the scandal battering President Donald Trump's administration. Sessions appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee at 2:30 pm (1830 GMT) for what will be a closely-watched grilling over his Russia contacts and how he was involved in the firing of FBI director James Comey.

It will be the first sworn public testimony from Sessions, a longtime former senator, since he was confirmed as the nation's top law enforcement officer in February, and comes as political intrigue pulses through the US capital following explosive testimony by Comey last week.

Trump has expressed frustration with Sessions, one of his earliest high-profile campaign backers, who has recused himself from investigations into alleged Russian interference in last year's election, and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

The Justice Department has said Sessions recused himself because his involvement in the campaign, but in his dramatic appearance last Thursday, Comey said the Federal Bureau of Investigation was aware of information that would have made it "problematic" for Sessions to be involved.

Trump sacked Comey in early May. Given that as FBI director Comey was overseeing the Russia probe, the firing has led to questions about potential obstruction of justice.

Rumors have since circulated that the president may seek to sack special counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed to head the high-stakes investigation following Comey's ouster.

But Sessions, who recommended Comey be fired, may end up declining to discuss his conversations with the president, invoking the so-called executive privilege that allows the president and others in the administration to keep their internal discussions private.

Whether he does so "depends on the scope of the questions," White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Monday, saying it would be "premature" to say how Sessions will act.

Although Sessions backed Trump's campaign, he was also one of the first administration officials to fly into turbulence. During his January confirmation hearing, he failed to disclose two meetings he held with Russian officials.

"He didn't tell us the truth," Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy told MSNBC Monday, saying there were now indications he had a third meeting. "Let's find out under oath what it was," Leahy said.

Sessions heads to Capitol Hill in a perilous position with his boss, with Trump reportedly growing displeased with his attorney general, notably over his recusal on the Russia probe.

He may also face questions about comments by Trump confidant Chris Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax, who suggested Monday that the president was considering firing Mueller, the special counsel appointed by the Justice Department to lead the FBI's Russia probe.

Democrats have bristled at that prospect, and several experts have warned that such a move could prove politically disastrous.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, said Tuesday he has "confidence" in the special counsel.

"I think the best thing to do is to let Robert Mueller do his job," he said.

In a separate Senate hearing, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein -- who following Sessions' recusal from the Russia probe is the official with authority to fire Mueller -- told lawmakers he has seen no evidence of good cause to do so.

Asked if he would fire Mueller should Trump ask him to, Rosenstein responded: "I'm not going to follow any orders unless I believe those are lawful."

Sessions may be under a further cloud after Comey suggested the attorney general may have failed to take appropriate steps to protect the FBI chief from political pressure from Trump's White House.

At the conclusion of a February 14 meeting, the sacked FBI chief testified, Trump urged everyone else but Comey to leave the Oval Office, including Sessions. Comey said the president then leaned on him to halt an investigation into one of his top aides, former national security advisor Michael Flynn.

Comey recalled that he felt "something big" was about to happen, and "my sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn't be leaving."