Just one day after Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate, President Trump revealed in a tweet that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has resigned. Matthew G. Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, will become acting Attorney General until Trump can win a confirmation for Sessions’ replacement from the Senate. Whitaker is expected to be sworn in by end of day Wednesday.
Sessions reportedly said in a letter to Trump that he is resigning at the president’s request.
We are pleased to announce that Matthew G. Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States. He will serve our Country well….
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….We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date.
As speculation turns to the fate of Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, the White House has confirmed that Rosenstein will remain in his role (for now, at least). This is key, because Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe, was reportedly on the cusp of resigning back in September after a NYT story which alleged that Rosenstein had tried to corral members of Trump’s cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump, even reportedly suggesting that senior officials surreptitiously record their conversations with Trump.
Immediately after Trump announced Sessions’ resignation, Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, said in a statement of his own that protecting the Mueller probe would be paramount. Since Whitaker hasn’t recused himself from the probe, he will become the senior DOJ official overseeing the Mueller, whose investigation is said to be winding down after a handful of departures from his team of prosecutors. This could be a problem for the veteran prosecutor, because Whitaker, a former US attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, said during a stint as a conservative commentator that the Mueller probe was a “witch hunt” and that he believes Mueller has violated the law by looking into Trump’s finances and venturing beyond the original scope of the investigation.
In July 2017, Whitaker said during an interview on CNN that he could envision a scenario where the AG doesn’t fire Mueller, but instead “just reduces his budget to so low that his investigations grinds to almost a halt.”
Schumer added that the timing of Sessions’ firing is “extremely suspect” – though most of Washington probably inferred that Sessions’ days were numbered once it became clear Tuesday that Republicans would expand their majority in the Senate.
Americans must have answers immediately as to the reasoning behind @realDonaldTrump removing Jeff Sessions from @TheJusticeDept. Why is the President making this change and who has authority over Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation? We will be holding people accountable. https://t.co/weykMuiCxm
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) November 7, 2018
Speculation has been mounting for months that Trump would fire Sessions – whom Trump has publicly criticized in interviews and tweets over Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Mueller probe. Many believe South Carolina Lindsey Graham will be tapped to replace Sessions, speculation that has only intensified following Nikki Haley’s decision to resign as UN Ambassador, which some believe she did to set herself up to succeed Graham (Haley previously served as governor of South Carolina) should he be tapped for Trump’s cabinet.
Sessions’ being forced out comes after Trump effectively dared House Democrats to use their subpoena power to investigate him, tweeting that “two can play that game” and saying during a press conference on Wednesday that he wouldn’t work with Democrats on legislation if they tried to subpoena him.