Donald Trump sacks Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General
What will the dismissal of the nation’s most senior law enforcement official mean for the Russia inquiry?
Jeff Session has resigned as US Attorney General at President Donald Trump’s request, raising doubts about the future of the Russia investigation.
The former Alabama senator’s job has been under threat since he stepped aside from Robert Mueller’s inquiry into potential collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Moscow last year.
“The presidential axe that had been hovering over Jeff Sessions for what has seemed like an eternity just came swinging down with a thud,” says the BBC’s Anthony Zurcher.
Sessions will be temporarily replaced as the nation’s most senior law enforcement official by his chief of staff and Trump loyalist, Matthew Whitaker.
Democrats immediately began to call for Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller inquiry, citing his earlier criticism of the probe, NPR reports.
In an op-ed for CNN last year, Whitaker said reports of Mueller potentially investigating Trump’s finances suggested the special counsel was going beyond his mandate.
Whitaker has even mused about how an acting attorney general could effectively kill the investigation, Vox points out.
“Given his record of threats to undermine and weaken the Russia investigation, Matthew Whitaker should recuse himself from any involvement in Mueller’s investigation,” tweeted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Furious Democrats, emboldened by winning control of the House in Tuesday’s elections, also promised to investigate Sessions’s forced resignation and suggested Trump’s actions could amount to obstruction of justice if he intended to disrupt the criminal probe, the Washington Post reports.
Congressman Jerry Nadler, the incoming chairman of the judiciary committee said the decision to sack Sessions “fits a clear pattern” of interference from President Trump.
“There is no mistaking what this means, and what is at stake: this is a constitutionally perilous moment for our country and for the president,” he said in a statement.
What happens next?
The New York Times reports that Justice Department ethics advisers may be asked to weigh whether Whitaker should recuse himself.
If he were to agree to do that, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who has been overseeing the inquiry since Sessions stepped aside, would continue to oversee the special counsel.
But what Whitaker will actually do in his new role remains unclear, says Vox.
The “most alarming scenario is Trump has installed Whitaker specifically to do the president’s bidding and thwart the probe — completely shutting things down to protect the president,” it says.
A Trump administration official told the NYT that Whitaker had no immediate plans to publicly comment about Mueller or to take actions regarding the Russia inquiry.
“I am committed to leading a fair department with the highest ethical standards that upholds the rule of law and seeks justice for all Americans,” Whitaker said in a statement.