You don’t need to read between the lines to see the significance of Jeff Sessions’ resignation as US Attorney-General.
The resignation came at Trump’s specific request. And it follows on months of harsh criticism from Trump, particularly over Sessions’ handling of the Mueller ‘witch hunt’.
Trump announced on Twitter that Matthew G. Whitaker, the Attorney-General’s chief of staff, will take over as interim Attorney-General until a permanent replacement is nominated.
In a letter, Sessions announced his plan to resign under pressure from Trump, with the document beginning with, ‘At your request, I am submitting my resignation.’
It was delivered to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Wednesday, and came just a day after the midterm elections, which saw the House flip to Democratic control, while the GOP expanded its Senate majority.
The move isn’t entirely unexpected, as Trump publicly and privately berated Sessions after the latter recused himself from the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia last March.
Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney-general, later appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to lead the probe.
‘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,’ Trump told The New York Times in July 2017.
Trump continued his criticism throughout the past year, and in September, appeared to disassociate Sessions from the administration completely, telling Hill.TV in an interview, ‘I don’t have an attorney-general. It’s very sad.’
Shortly before Trump’s announcement on Wednesday, he held a press conference in which he was asked if he was planning on making any changes to his team. He did not mention Sessions, but said that he was overall ‘extremely’ happy with his cabinet.
Sessions’ departure immediately raises questions about the future of Mueller’s investigation.
Whitaker, who will now oversee the Mueller investigation, wrote an op-ed for CNN.com in August 2017, arguing that Mueller would be going too far if he were investigating Trump’s finances.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said ‘protecting Mueller and his investigation is paramount. It would create a constitutional crisis if this were a prelude to ending or greatly limiting the Mueller investigation’.
He also said that Whitaker should recuse himself given previous comments about defunding and putting limitations on the probe.
House Democrats accused Trump of trying to ‘manipulate’ the investigation during the lame-duck Congress.
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The Australian Tribune with AP