Attorney General Jeff Sessions Fired

President Trump has fired his Attorney General, a move than many are interpreting as the precursor to a move against Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Less than twenty-four hours after the conclusion of the midterm elections, President Trump has fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, although it is being formulated as Sessions “resigning”:

WASHINGTON — President Trump forced out Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday, ending a partnership that soured almost from the start of the administration and degenerated into one of the most acrimonious public standoffs between a commander in chief and a senior cabinet member in modern American history.

Mr. Sessions’s resignation, made at the president’s request, was being delivered to John Kelly, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff. It came just a day after midterm elections in which Democrats captured control of the House, but Republican success in holding onto the Senate and building their slim majority may make it easier for the president to confirm a successor.

“Dear Mr. President, at your request I am submitting my resignation,” Mr. Sessions said in his letter.

Matthew Whitaker, Mr. Sessions’s chief of staff, will take over as acting attorney general, Mr. Trump said in a tweet announcing the shake-up.

“We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well!” he wrote. “A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date.”

The president has regularly attacked the Justice Department and Mr. Sessions, blaming the attorney general for the specter of the special counsel investigation into ties between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Mr. Trump has said for months that he wished to replace Mr. Sessions, but lawmakers and administration officials believed that firing the attorney general before the midterm elections would have had negative consequences for Republicans in tight races. So it came as little surprise when Mr. Sessions’s resigned the day after the midterms were over.

Mr. Trump blamed Mr. Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the investigation in its early stages, leading to the appointment of a special counsel.

“He took the job and then he said, ‘I’m going to recuse myself.’ I said, ‘What kind of a man is this?'” Mr. Trump said this year in a Fox News interview. “I wanted to stay uninvolved. But when everybody sees what’s going on in the Justice Department — I always put ‘justice’ now with quotes.”

The deputy attorney general, now Rod J. Rosenstein, would normally be in line to become the acting attorney general, but Mr. Trump has complained publicly about Mr. Rosenstein, too. Since Mr. Sessions is recused from all election-related matters, Mr. Rosenstein oversees the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is investigating the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia.

More from The Washington Post:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned on Wednesday at President Trump’s request, ending the tenure of a beleaguered loyalist whose relationship with the president was ruined when Sessions recused himself from control of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

In a letter to Trump, Sessions wrote he had been “honored to serve as Attorney General” and had “worked to implement the law enforcement agenda based on the rule of law that formed a central part of your campaign for the presidency.” Trump tweeted that Sessions would be replaced on an acting basis by Matthew G. Whitaker, who had been serving as Sessions’s chief of staff.

“We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well!” Trump tweeted. “A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date.”

A Justice Department official said Whitaker would assume authority over the special counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election — though his role could be reviewed by ethics officials. Because Sessions was recused, the special counsel probe had been overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who also has had strained relations with Trump, but is considered safe in his position for the moment.

A legal commentator before he came into the Justice Department, Whitaker has mused publicly about how a Sessions replacement might reduce Mueller’s budget “so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.” He also wrote in a September 2017 column that Mueller had “come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing,” after CNN reported that the special counsel could be looking into Trump and his associates’ financial ties to Russia.

A White House official said Trump had been held at bay to demand Sessions’s resignation until after the Tuesday’s midterm elections, but he talked eagerly about ousting his attorney general as soon as the votes were tallied. The person said other Cabinet officials were also in jeopardy

Sessions received a phone call Wednesday morning from White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly — before the president held a news conference — telling him the president wanted Sessions to resign, an administration official said.

The White House official said that Trump liked Whitaker, who was a “backslapping, football kind of guy” who had briefed Trump on many occasions.

Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney who ran an unsuccessful campaign for a Senate seat in Iowa, played college football at the University of Iowa.

“The president never wanted to see Jeff. So a lot of other people at DOJ got to see the president,” the person said.

Two close Trump advisers said, though, that the president does not plan on keeping Whitaker permanently.

“I don’t see him staying,” said one Trump aide. “I think the president will be a lot more deliberate in interviewing potential replacements for Jeff Sessions.”

Early in the administration, Sessions also gave Trump a resignation letter and let him hold onto it. The move deeply concerned White House aides, including then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who told Sessions that Trump would use the letter to manipulate him.

“You have to get that letter back,” Priebus told Sessions, according to people familiar with the conversation.

(…)

Sessions, 71, was the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump, and in many ways he had been the biggest supporter of the president’s policies on immigration, crime and law enforcement.

But all of those areas of agreement were overshadowed by the Russia investigation — specifically, Sessions’s recusal from the inquiry after it was revealed that he had met more than once with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the 2016 campaign even though he had said during his confirmation hearing that he had not met with any Russians.

Trump has never forgiven Sessions for that decision, which he regarded as an act of disloyalty that denied him the protection he thought he deserved from his attorney general. “I don’t have an attorney general,” he said in September.

Privately, Trump has derided Sessions as “Mr. Magoo,” a cartoon character who is elderly, myopic and bumbling, according to people with whom he has spoken.

Trump also had repeatedly threatened or demanded Sessions’s ouster behind closed doors, only to be convinced by aides that removing him could provoke a political crisis within the Republican Party, where many conservatives stayed loyal to the former senator.

Trump tweeted about the firing shortly after the conclusion of a bizarre, two-hour post-midterm press conference:

And several Democrats have already responded:

https://twitter.com/SenSchumer/status/1060267805692620800This is hardly surprising, of course. Increasingly over the past several months, Trump has made his contempt for and annoyance with his Attorney General eminently clear. notwithstanding the fact that Sessions was the first Republican Senator to endorse him in a race that, at the time, was still very much up in the air. Additionally, regardless of what one might think of him, and my own opinions are generally negative due to his positions on important civil liberties issues, it is true that he did absolutely the right thing when he decided to recuse himself from supervision of the investigation into Russian interference in the election given what came to light regarding his meetings with the Russian Ambassador after he had endorsed Trump. Granted, he likely only did so because of the public outcry that developed once those meetings came to light, but in the end, he made the right choice and deserves some credit for that. Trump apparently sees this recusal as the start of the chain of events that led to Mueller’s appointment as special counsel, but there’s a good possibility that there would have been such an appointment even if Sessions had not recused himself due to the political reality of what had come to light between the time of his recusal and Mueller’s appointment by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Most recently, it was reported that Trump openly humiliated Sessions in front of White House Staff and members of Trump’s cabinet.

That reported dressing down wasn’t the last time that Trump went after his own Attorney General. At several points during the summer as the Russia investigation has gotten closer to Trump’s inner circle, Trump has attacked Sessions on Twitter and in interviews where he made it clear that he was upset about the fact that Sessions had recused himself from the Russia investigation. In July, there was even open speculation that Trump was on the verge of firing Sessions and replacing him with someone such as former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. While that speculation proved to be unfounded, at least so far, it makes clear that the recusal continues to be something that bothers Trump specifically because he believes it is what led to Mueller’s appointment and the expansion of the investigation.

All of this, of course, raises the obvious question of what happens to the Russia investigation being handled by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in the wake of the President’s decision to fire F.B.I. Director James Comey. This decision was made by Rosenstein because, as noted, Sessions had recused himself from any supervisory role over the Russia investigation due to his involvement in the Trump campaign and his own contacts with Russian officials. Ever since then, this President and his Administration has long fallen back on the idea that the entire Russia investigation is an example of so-called “fake news” and that there is no reason for either special counsel Robert Mueller or the Intelligence committees in either the House or the Senate to continue their investigation of the reports of Russian interference and allegations of collusion or coordination between people tied to the Trump campaign. We’ve seen this phenomenon manifest itself several times since Trump became President, not only in his Twitter feed but also in public comments and in actions such as when he asked F.B.I. Director James Comey if he could end the investigation of former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and later when he fired Comeyabruptly just days after he had testified about the investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign before a Senate committee. As we know now, Trump later openly admitted that he took that later action specifically because of the Russia investigation. In addition, Trump has asked his own intelligence chiefs to push back on the Russia investigation and asked members of the Senate to find a way to shut down the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation, which has been far more extensive than that conducted by its counterpart.

In any case, it’s clear why Trump took this step. The fact that Trump replaced Sessions with his Chief of Staff Matthew Whittaker is no mistake, especially since Whittaker wrote an Op-Ed calling for the Mueller investigation to be reigned just over a year ago. Even though there are valid policy reasons to object to Sessions’ tenure as Attorney General, it’s clear that this has no connection to Sessions being fired. Trump didn’t disagree with Sessions on immigration policy, civil liberties issues, the rights of transgender Americans, the War on Drugs, or any other issue. And there is no other apparent basis on which to demand Sessions fire himself from Trump’s point of view. The only reason there was a conflict between the two men was because of Sessions deciding to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, something that was entirely proper for him to do. Now, with an Acting Attorney General who is openly hostile to the investigation Trump has basically a free hand to move against, or limit, Mueller’s investigation as he sees fit.

Here’s Sessions letter to the Preident, take note of the first sentence, which clearly acknowledges that this was not a voluntary resignation:

Jeff Sessions Letter of Res… by on Scribd

FILED UNDER: General
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    Acting AG Matthew Whitaker’s CNN op-ed last august:

    Mueller’s investigation of Trump is going too far

    His first act was to put himself in charge of that investigation.

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  2. SenyorDave says:

    New House in January’s first 19 moves (pick any number) should be investigations of all things Trump.

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  3. KM says:

    Sh^t’s getting real, GOP.

    At what point are you going to do something about the blatant attempts to sabotage this investigation? Where’s the “holy hell” Lindsey promised would come down if Trump did this – and make no mistake, Sessions was *fired* because “at your request” means it wasn’t Sessions’ choice or decision. Where’s your spines?

    Trump’s going to keep pushing, Republicans. Pushing and pushing and pushing and if you aren’t careful, you’re going to find yourselves on the wrong side of things when he finally goes too far for the general public. He cannot and will not restrain himself – he’s going to do whatever he wants regardless of the crisis it provokes…. and a crisis *IS* coming sure as the dawn. He’s too senile or too self-centered to care what he’s bringing down on this nation. He’s pouring poison down your throats and expecting you to swallow.

    At what point do you stop offering to slit your own throat for this man? At what point do you realize he’s not bringing you anything that won’t get destroyed if this all goes to hell?

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  4. Gustopher says:

    Firing Mueller would lead to an interesting January, when the House intelligence committee calls him to testify as Witness #1 in open hearings.

    May not be in Trumps best interest. A policy of not commenting on continuing investigation, and a threshold of needing to prosecute beyond a reasonable doubt might be better to protect modest sleaze.

    Mueller’s team doesn’t leak — does Trump want them dumping all they know?

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  5. mike shupp says:

    “. . . immigration policy, civil liberties issues, the rights of transgender Americans, the War on Drugs, or any other issue.”

    Is anybody going to miss this guy? The only Attorney General I can recall that inspired such levels of affection was John Mitchell, forty years ago.

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  6. Kathy says:

    @KM:

    Posts like yours make me wish for multiple up-votes.

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  7. Modulo Myself says:

    Whitaker is a real deal under-50 Trump supporter. His twitter feed is gaming and bragging about his hot wife and stuff about weightlifting and controlling happiness. This is the guy who buys brain supplements from Ben Shapiro and Alex Jones.

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  8. SenyorDave says:

    @KM: He’s pouring poison down your throats and expecting you to swallow.

    Up to now, their response has been “thank you, sir, may I have another”. The closest thing to a spine shown was Bob Corker, until they bribed him on the tax cuts, and Jeff Flake, who actually grew a spine during the Kavanaugh hearings, and after a week decided it was too damn uncomfortable. The rest of the party… crickets chirping.

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  9. Modulo Myself says:

    @KM:

    They don’t care. There was a study about cults and what happens when you come down from the mountain after the spaceship hasn’t arrived. Basically, it doesn’t shake your belief in the slightest. When Prophecy Fails, it’s called.

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  10. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    One question; who is going to stop him?

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  11. Jen says:

    How long can the acting AG serve if he has not been confirmed by the Senate? Is there an expiration date, or is it open until the new one is named and confirmed?

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  12. Kathy says:

    @mike shupp:

    Is anybody going to miss this guy?

    If he were leaving with the rest of the Cheeto administration in 2021, I’d say “good riddance.” As that blessed day is over 2 years away, though, the question is “will the next guy be even worse?”

    It’s hard to picture such a thing, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. For one thing, it’s likely the next AG will act as Trump’s shield from the law.

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  13. Pylon says:

    @Jen:

    From what I’ve read he can’t even be appointed without being approved by the Senate, unless he was previously approved for a different post. But (a) who will object and (b) this Senate is a rubber stamp anyways.

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  14. Katharsis says:

    Some are saying that because of this there are strong grounds for conflict of interest and Whitaker may have to recuse himself. Or not… IANAL.


    Mark Whitaker, now in charge of the Mueller investigation, chaired the 2014 campaign of Sam Clovis, a grand jury witness in that investigation.

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  15. MarkedMan says:

    Lest anyone think Trump will show some restraint here, TPM has a report that a white nationalist was invited to the White House today and allowed to take pictures on the grounds, which he tweeted out to his followers. So, yeah, Trump is going there. Full speed ahead.

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  16. Jen says:

    @Pylon: Good point…I keep forgetting we’re in the Twilight Zone as far as rules, law, and norms go. You’d think I’d have learned by now it’s not even worth asking those questions.

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  17. al Ameda says:

    @mike shupp:

    Is anybody going to miss this guy? The only Attorney General I can recall that inspired such levels of affection was John Mitchell, forty years ago.

    Never ask that question during the Trump Administration.
    With Trump, it can always get worse.

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  18. CSK says:

    This just proves–as if we needed any additional proof–tat Trump’s sole criterion for hiring anyone is that that person be unquestioningly and absolutely loyal to him. No oter qualification necessary.

    He believes that the AG of the U.S.A. functions solely as his personal lawyer.

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  19. Mister Bluster says:

    All that crap, you’re putting it in the paper? It’s all been denied. Katie Graham’s gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published. Good Christ! That’s the most sickening thing I ever heard.
    John Mitchell
    WikiQ

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  20. Kathy says:

    @al Ameda:

    With Trump, it can always get worse.

    You just say that based on past experience.

    BTW, is it just me, or does Trump seemed to be pissed off in about 97 out of every 100 pictures of him, even when he’s showing off his signature on an executive order.

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  21. Todd says:

    @Jen:

    How long can the acting AG serve

    210 days, or until a new AG is confirmed by the Senate.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Vacancies_Reform_Act_of_1998

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  22. Todd says:

    @Gustopher:

    Firing Mueller would lead to an interesting January, when the House intelligence committee calls him to testify as Witness #1 in open hearings.

    I’m not sure how much information Robert Mueller would actually be able to share in a public setting … especially if the acting attorney general decides not to release his findings.

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  23. MarkedMan says:

    This is obvious but is worth repeating: Trump is acting this way and doing things because he is guilty.

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  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @KM: Graham’s spine is just where it ought to be and just fine, thank you. I happen to suffer from sciatica, and I can tell you from experience that I can no longer bend over far enough to kiss anyone’s ass, so Lindsay’s must still be in good shape.

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  25. Todd says:

    @MarkedMan: Of course he’s guilty.

    But due to an effective decades long propaganda campaign to discredit everything but “conservative” media for fairly large segment of our population, it’s probably not something that will matter … at least in the conventional sense.

    Any evidence of Trump’s guilt is clearly “fake news”.

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  26. An Interested Party says:

    I wonder…do Trump lackeys enjoy being used and abused? When something ignominious like this happens to Sessions, do others realize that it could happen to them once they are no longer useful?

    I’m not sure how much information Robert Mueller would actually be able to share in a public setting … especially if the acting attorney general decides not to release his findings.

    But what if a Democratically-controlled House decides to employ him…

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  27. Mister Bluster says:

    …do others realize that it could happen to them once they are no longer useful?

    I suspect that some of Pud’s retinue think that if they pander to his every whim and stay close enough, long enough they will get to screw a pornstar too!

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  28. PJ says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    I suspect that some of Pud’s retinue think that if they pander to his every whim and stay close enough, long enough they will get to screw a pornstar too!

    And instead they will get screwed by pResident tRump. (The p and the t are silent.)

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  29. Pylon says:

    Nice Republic you folks have. You are heading straight to a constitutional crisis.

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  30. One American says:

    Hold on to your shorts, it is just beginning!

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  31. Resistance Ron says:

    @MarkedMan:

    TPM has a report that a white nationalist was invited to the White House today and allowed to take pictures on the grounds,

    Wow.

    Some random guy went on a WH tour that is open to the public.

    It’s not like Trump invited Sharpton to the Oval Office.

    Did you even read the article?

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  32. Tyrell says:

    I have not followed the Mueller “investigation” in some time since I left the main stream “news”. What I am into now is mainly the science, tech and health news. I feel more informed and positive. Lots of new ideas and fascinating information, not the depressing gossip and negativity.
    Most people I talk to haven’t kept up with Mueller. One person thought that I was referring to the football coach. Anyhow, this thing seemed to be pushed by people consumed by their own greed. If Mueller wants to do something helpful, he should investigate the $ trillions that the Federal Reserve won’t account for.
    Mueller has too much unchecked power. No one is safe. I think we all should be concerned about that and the precedent it sets. Who is monitoring him and his agents?
    I dropped my smart phone and went back to a simple flip phone. It is tough and stays charged for a week. My provider had told me that Google could not be uninstalled from the smart phone. That was enough for me.

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  33. charon says:

    @Todd:

    I’m not sure how much information Robert Mueller would actually be able to share in a public setting … especially if the acting attorney general decides not to release his findings.

    Mueller is using “speaking indictments” to get his findings to the public, there will be some big indictments dropping soon. Any report would just rehash information that is already out.

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  34. charon says:

    Hoarse Wisperer:

    https://twitter.com/HoarseWisperer/status/1060773284961312768

    (About speaking indictments, thread)

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  35. charon says:

    There are legality and constitutional issues with Whitaker appointment. Anything he does is likely to be legally challenged. (Of course, given Trump’s love of picking fights that could be the point.)

    https://www.lawfareblog.com/matthew-whitakers-appointment-acting-attorney-general-three-lingering-questions

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  36. charon says:
  37. Mikey says:

    @charon: They’re not concerned about the legalities. They know he won’t be able to stay. But that’s not why he’s there–he’s there to gather all the information he can on the Mueller investigation and pass it to Trump.

    He’s basically Trump’s guy on the inside at this point.

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  38. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Tyrell: Why did you want a smartphone that can’t connect to the internet in the first place? Connecting to the internet is sorta the whole reason to have a smart phone.

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  39. gVOR08 says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Whitaker is a real deal under-50 Trump supporter. His twitter feed is gaming and bragging about his hot wife and stuff about weightlifting and controlling happiness. This is the guy who buys brain supplements from Ben Shapiro and Alex Jones.

    Yeah. Part of what’s happened is that we used to have Republicans who lied on FOX, now we have Republicans who were lied to by FOX.

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  40. Tyrell says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Thanks for the question. When I bought my first smart phone a few years ago (Nokia – nice phone for the price), there did not seem as much spyware and intrusions. Now it is controlled and it is like they are right there over my shoulder.
    I use an alternative os on my computer that works great.

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