President Donald Trump ditched his attorney general on Wednesday and replaced him with a former federal prosecutor who has been openly critical of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe and will now have the power to end it.
Jeff Sessions was not expected to last long after Tuesday’s elections, and Trump at a news conference declined to give him a boost of confidence.
Trump shared the news in a tweet; a Justice Department spokeswoman said shortly afterward that Sessions’ chief of staff, Matt Whitaker, would have responsibility for overseeing Mueller. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the regulations pertaining to the special counsel allowed the appointment.
Sessions had recused himself from that role early on in the Trump administration, putting it in the lap of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – who eagle-eyed reporters spotted heading to the White House hours after the president gave Sessions his walking papers.
Democrats rang the alarm in the meantime about a ‘constitutional crisis’ set off by Trump’s ‘fear of being implicated’ in crimes by special counsel Mueller.
Sessions left his Justice Department office after dark on Wednesday in a wake-like scene with applause on the sidewalk that extended long after he entered a waiting SUV.
Jeff Sessions’ resignation letter to President Donald Trump, delivered Wednesday, was undated and made it clear that he was quitting because the president told him to
Sessions left the Justice Department’s headquarters after dark on Wednesday to the sound of applause from his staff
The wake-like scene included somber ranks of Sessions’ colleagues applauding him before and after he got into a waiting SUV to leave
HIT THE ROAD, JEFF: The president fired his attorney general Jeff Sessions on Wednesday and announced the change on Twitter
Justice Department Chief of Staff Matt Whitaker is now acting attorney general, with control over everything in the agency including the Russa probe, from which sessions recused himself in 2017
Democrats rang the alarm in the meantime about a ‘constitutional crisis’ set off by Trump’s ‘fear of being implicated’ in crimes by special counsel Mueller
In Whitaker, the president will get the partisan ally at Justice that he’s always wanted.
Whitaker wrote in an essay for CNN last year that Mueller was ‘dangerously close to crossing’ a ‘red line’ by considering broadening his investigation to include a probe of the Trump family’s business dealings.
‘It does not take a lawyer or even a former federal prosecutor like myself to conclude that investigating Donald Trump’s finances or his family’s finances falls completely outside of the realm of his 2016 campaign and allegations that the campaign coordinated with the Russian government or anyone else,’ he wrote then.
‘That goes beyond the scope of the appointment of the special counsel.’
Senate Democrats presented the op-ed as evidence that Whitaker must also recuse himself, following the temporary appointment.
Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat and likely challenger to Trump in 2020, helped lead charge. ‘Matt Whitaker should recuse himself from supervision of the special counsel,’ Booker said.
‘Jeff Sessions’ firing at the hands of the President is an alarming development that brings us one step closer to a constitutional crisis. I’m concerned that President Trump made this decision based on his fear of being implicated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and frustration with Sessions’ recusal from that investigation,’ a statement read.
Rep. Adam Schiff, soon to be chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, agreed.
‘The firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions places the Special Counsel’s investigation in new and immediate peril. It is abundantly clear that Sessions was forced out for following the advice of ethics lawyers at the Department of Justice and recusing himself from the Russia probe,’ he stated.
The Democrat with the power to unilaterally probe Trump, beginning in January, said ‘interference with the Special Counsel’s investigation would cause a constitutional crisis and undermine the rule of law’ as he warned the president that Congress will come after him if he seeks to ‘interfere in the impartial administration of justice, the Congress must stop him.’
Schiff told Trump flatly: ‘No one is above the law.’
Senator-Elect Mitt Romney, a Republican whose hot-and-cold relationship with Trump has seen vicious campaign-season fireworks, threw his own senatorial-sounding brushback pitch.
‘It is imperative that the important work of the Justice Department continues, and that the Mueller investigation proceeds to its conclusion unimpeded,’ Romney tweeted.
Sen. Cory Booker, a likely challenger to Trump in 2020, and Rep. Adam Schiff, soon to be head of House Intelligence, said that Trump was on the brink of bringing about a constitutional crisis
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein departed the West Wing of the White House on Wednesday
Rosenstein appears to have survived the bloodletting that put Attorney General Jeff Sessions out to pasture, but he has lost the authority to oversee Mueller’s Russia probe
Trump has openly called the Mueller investigation a ‘witch hunt’ and blamed Sessions for accepting the attorney general job without disclosing that he would have to step away from managing it.
Whitaker argued that Rosenstein should have ordered Mueller ‘to limit the scope of his investigation to the four corners of the order appointing him. If he doesn’t, then Mueller’s investigation will eventually start to look like a political fishing expedition.’
Rosenstein appeared to keep his job on Wednesday, coming to the White House and leaving with a broad grin on his face.
Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, told reporters that he found the timing of Sessions’ dismissal ‘very suspect’ and believed no attorney general should be allowed to interfere in any way with Mueller’s operation.
‘Protecting Mueller and his investigation is paramount,’ Schumer said. ‘It would create a constitutional crisis if this were a prelude to ending or greatly limiting the Mueller investigation.’
Speculation ran rampant on Tuesday that Mueller might release a report on his findings as soon as all the results from Tuesday’s midterm elections were made final.
That expectation has been complicated by the possibility of a rnuoff in the Georgia governor’s race that could see voters going back to the polls in four weeks.
Sessions’ resignation letter to the president made clear that he did not willingly vacate his position as America’s top law enforcement officer.
‘At your request, I am submitting my resignation,’ he worte in the undated letter obtained by DailyMail.com.
A Capitol Hill source said Wednesday that Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, who survived a scare against a Democratic challenger on Tuesday, recommended Whitaker for a promotion last month.
The source said that King advised Trump to consider helping Whitaker if he were to fire someone in a senior DOJ position.
Whitaker is a life-long Iowan who played tight end for the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 1991 Rose Bowl game.
Jeff Sessions was not expected to last long after Tuesday’s elections; Trump resented him for recusing himself from supervising a special counsel probe into allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian agents in 2016 to tilt the presidential election’s results
King said Wednesday in a phone interview that he spoke with the president on October 2 in the Oval Office and urged him to ’empower’ Whitaker and make sure he wasn’t ‘caught in the crossfire,’ sensing that changes were coming.
‘The president said he was a Whitaker fan,’ King told DailyMail.com. ‘And he asked me to call Matt, and tell him that he loves him.’
Trump had already spoken personally with Whitaker in late September about the possibility of replacing Sessions, a West Wing aide told DailyMail.com last month.
A senior Republican said then that Whitaker was in a ‘grooming exercise’ to become attorney general, and had been expected to replace Rosenstein on an acting basis until his planned resignation evaporated in September.
A farewell message to Rosenstein, drafted for Sessions to issue but later scrapped, revealed that Whitaker would have stepped in.
Trump parried a question about Whitaker during an October interview on the Fox News Channel.
‘I never talk about that but I can tell you Matt Whitaker’s a great guy,’ he said then.
‘I’m not doing anything,’ Trump added. ‘I want to get the elections over with. We’ll see what happens.’
Whitaker, a former Iowa federal prosecutor, was also on a short list to replace White House Counsel Don McGahn two months ago, according to the Axios news website.
A senior Republican congressional aide told DailyMail.om in October that Whitaker was put in place to run Sessions’ DOJ office ‘as a grooming exercise.’
‘The feeling there is that he’s the heir apparent, that he’ll be the next attorney general, unless someone who’s bulletproof and has a big name wants the job,’ the aide said.
Sessions was the first of Trump’s backers in Congress to be awarded a prized position in the administration. But he quickly fell out of favor. He pushed oversight of the Russian election meddling and collusion investigation onto his deputy who in turn hired a special counsel.
Trump has made his displeasure with Sessions over his recusal from the Russia probe broadly known. He said he would never have appointed the former Alabama senator, had he realized that he’d that he’d be backing away from the investigation that’s been a lingering dark cloud.
Sessions was part of Trump’s transition team and advised his campaign. He failed to recollect properly during his nomination hearing that he’d had several campaign encounters with high-level Russians, including one that took place in his United States Senate office.
The president said as Democrats threatened to remove him from office for obstructing justice that he would leave Sessions right where he was. The pledge had an expiration date of Tuesday’s election and Trump couldn’t could get rid of the ex-Republican senator fast enough.
HOW JEFF SESSIONS WENT FROM DONALD TRUMP BOOSTER TO BÊTE NOIRE
February 28, 2016: Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions officially endorses Donald Trump for president
September 8, 2016: Sessions meets with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in his Senate office
November 18, 2016: Trump announces Sessions’ nomination as Attorney General
February 8, 2017: Senate confirms Session as Attorney General by a vote of 52 to 47
March 2, 2017: Sessions recuses himself from the Russia investigation after reports of his contacts with Kislyak, which he did not disclose in his confirmation hearing
March 4, 2017: Session and Trump meet at Mar-a-Lago where the president asks him to reverse his recusal; Session refuses
May 9, 2017: Sessions delivers a memo written by Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein to the President recommending Trump fire FBI Director James Comey
May 17, 2017: Robert Mueller is appointed special counsel by Rosenstein
July 25, 2017: Trump tweets: ‘Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!’
March 16, 2018: Sessions fires Deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe
May 30, 2018: In a string of tweets, Trump quotes an interview with GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy, who had said there were a host of good attorneys the president could have named as AG: ‘…There are lots of really good lawyers in the country, he could have picked somebody else!’ And I wish I did!’
August 1, 2018: Trump tweet seems to suggest Sessions should fire Mueller: ‘This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!’
Sept. 19, 2018: Trump tells The Hill of Sessions: ‘I don’t have an attorney general. It’s very sad.’
November 7, 2018: Sessions resigns at Trump’s request
The president said in a tweet that a permanent replacement would be nominated later, and didn’t rule out giving Whitaker the job.
‘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,’ he said.
A second tweet said, ‘We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date.’
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham had suggested on Election Day that Sessions’ days at Justice were numbered.
‘I think Jeff will step aside after the midterm and the President will nominate somebody,’ he said as he paved the way for an immediate resignation. ‘Every president deserves an attorney general they have confidence in. I like Jeff Sessions but this is just not working. So if we hold the Senate, I think you will probably see a new attorney general sometime next year.’
Within minutes of the firing, Sen. John Cornyn, another Judiciary Committee Republican, released a pre-written statement about Sessions.
‘Attorney General Sessions has selflessly dedicated more than 40 years to serving the people of Alabama and the nation,’ he said in the statement that was obviously premeditated. ‘Those who know him understand his commitment to the rule of law, and his deep and abiding concern for our country.’
The GOP leader wrote, ‘I’m proud to call him a friend. I wish Jeff and Mary the best of luck in their next chapter, and I hope everyone will join me in honoring his public service to the country.’
He mentioned nothing of the Mueller probe that Trump wants to end or the partisan bickering over Sessions’ replacement that sure to ensue.
It didn’t come up in official statements from Graham, either, or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
‘I thank Jeff Sessions for his dedicated service as Attorney General. Throughout his career, as a prosecutor, a Senator and as Attorney General, he remained steadfast in his commitment to the rule of law and his love of our great nation. I wish him well and look forward to working with him in any future endeavors,’ the top Republican in the Senate stated.
Sessions’ replacement will be vetted by the Senate Judiciary Committee and put before the full body for a vote. The GOP maintains a 51-seat majority that could expand by two more seats when all is said and done.
Trump had signaled that Sessions’ time was up long before Wednesday, and it was only a matter of time before the president fired him.
Still, the departure came as a shock in Washington, where Trump had just preached a message of unity and bipartisanship.
The president had refused to say at his news conference if Sessions had job security.
‘I’d rather answer that at a little bit different time. Were looking at a lot of things,’ Trump said. ‘I’m very happy with most of my Cabinet. We’re looking at different people for different positions.’
Creating a platform for the departure of Sessions and others, Trump said, ‘I know it’s very common after the midterms. I didn’t want to do anything before the midterms, but I will tell you that for the most part, I am extremely happy with my Cabinet.’