Sessions Out as Attorney General
Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned at the request of President Trump on Wednesday, immediately placing oversight of the special counsel’s Russia probe in the hands of an official who has been critical of the inquiry and suggested limiting it.
The move—one day after elections in which Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives but made gains in the Senate—follows months in which Mr. Trump regularly expressed displeasure with Mr. Sessions for recusing himself from the inquiry into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mr. Trump has described the nation’s top law enforcement officer as “DISGRACEFUL!”
Mr. Sessions made it clear in his resignation letter that Mr. Trump had asked him to step down, saying he was submitting his resignation “at your request.” The undated letter was written Wednesday, a Justice Department spokeswoman said. President Trump wrote on Twitter after a marathon press conference at the White House that Sessions was out and that Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, would serve as an acting replacement.
Whitaker’s responsibilities as acting attorney general will include oversight of the investigation into whether Trump’s campaign conspired with the Russian attack on the 2016 election — the inquiry being run by special counsel Robert Mueller. It wasn’t immediately clear what that would mean for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has been supervising Mueller and has been the public face of the investigation in place of a reticent and press-averse special counsel. Democrats immediately began to call for Whitaker to recuse himself from oversight of the Mueller inquiry, citing earlier comments by Whitaker about Mueller and his office.
“Given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation, Mr. Whitaker should recuse himself from its oversight for the duration of his time as acting attorney general,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said in a statement.
“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,” Mr. Whitaker said on Wednesday in a statement in which he also called Mr. Sessions “a man of integrity.” But as acting attorney general, Mr. Whitaker would be in a position to impede or undermine the investigation or to block Mr. Mueller from delivering a final report on whether Mr. Trump’s campaign advisers conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 campaign, and whether the president tried to cover it up.
Any such step could set off a dramatic clash with the new Democratic majority in the House. Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, who will become the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, was one of several Democrats to promise investigations once the party takes control in January.