News Desk |
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been fired by President Donald Trump. Trump had criticized his top law official for months, mainly over his refusal to oversee the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in favor of Trump’s election in 2016. Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, who has criticized the inquiry, will take over temporarily.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Mueller’s wide-ranging investigation has resulted in a series of criminal charges against several Trump associates.
Sessions voluntarily removed himself from the probe after Democrats accused him of failing to disclose contacts with the Russian ambassador during his Senate confirmation hearing.
In a resignation letter, Mr. Sessions a former Alabama senator who was an early supporter of Trump – made clear the decision to go was not his own. “Dear President, at your request I am submitting my resignation,” he wrote in an undated letter.
“Most importantly, in my time as attorney general, we have restored and upheld the rule of law,” Sessions added while thanking the Republican president. “We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday.
“Clearly, the president has something to hide,” opposition Democratic party Senate leader Chuck Schumer said. “Given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation, Whitaker should recuse himself from its oversight for the duration of his time as acting attorney general.
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Trump has repeatedly pilloried his top law enforcement official since Sessions stepped aside from the Russia inquiry in March 2017. In July 2017 Trump told the New York Times: “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.”
Sessions voluntarily removed himself from the probe after Democrats accused him of failing to disclose contacts with the Russian ambassador during his Senate confirmation hearing. The attorney general later said he had forgotten about those meetings, which happened during the Trump election campaign.
Donald Trump had previously said he would wait until after the mid-term elections to decide his attorney general’s fate, and he did – but just barely.
Trump has at various times belittled Mr. Sessions as “VERY weak” and “DISGRACEFUL”. Matthew Whitaker can now assume control of the Mueller inquiry, which has been under the control of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein until now.
The president cannot directly fire the special counsel, whose investigation Mr. Trump has repeatedly decried as a witch hunt. But Mr. Sessions’s replacement will have the power to fire Mr. Mueller or end the inquiry. Rosenstein was summoned to the White House on Wednesday for what was described as a previously scheduled meeting.
It was the deputy attorney general who appointed Mr. Mueller to lead the Russia inquiry, after Mr. Trump fired FBI director James Comey in May 2017. The special counsel’s probe has also been investigating whether Comey’s firing amounted to attempted obstruction of justice.
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There has also been a question mark over Mr. Rosenstein’s future since it was reported he had discussed invoking a constitutional clause to oust President Trump.
The presidential axe that had been hovering over Jeff Sessions for what has seemed like an eternity just came swinging down with a thud. Donald Trump had previously said he would wait until after the mid-term elections to decide his attorney general’s fate, and he did – but just barely.
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And like that the duties of overseeing Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation shift from the man who appointed the special counsel, Rod Rosenstein, to a man who has been a critic of it, Department of Justice Chief of Staff Matthew Whitaker.