Wednesday, the day after the midterm elections concluded — and within hours of declining to answer a question about his future at a press conference — President Donald Trump fired U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The president obviously had the potential political ramifications in mind, since it’s hard to take the day after the midterms as coincidental timing. The shock waves have still been wrought, though, and as part of the fallout, apparent incoming House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) has demanded “answers.”
As he put it:
‘Americans must have answers immediately as to the reasoning behind Donald Trump removing Jeff Sessions from The Justice Department. Why is the President making this change and who has authority over Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation? We will be holding people accountable.’
The forced departure didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. The president has railed against Sessions for months, furious over the former U.S. Senator’s decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Trump had hoped, apparently, that he could lead the probe more in the president’s favor.
That ship sailed, though, when Sessions himself became a possible target of the investigations thanks to his secretive meetings with the former Russian Ambassador to the United States. In his absence, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein took over, and he’s the one who appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller not long after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.
One of the questions out there now, then, is to whom oversight of the Russia investigation might fall, since acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker — who’d been Sessions’ chief of staff — has not recused himself. Whitaker has expressed his own outrage at the persistence of the Mueller investigation in the past, something Rosenstein has not done, although Sessions has.
Sitting before a Congressional panel earlier this year, he commented of the probe:
‘This thing needs to conclude. So, I understand [Trump’s] frustrations, and I understand the American people’s frustrations.’
Still, Sessions didn’t “understand” enough for him to follow through on the president’s repeated push for the probe to be shut down.
Now, the president has taken matters into his own hands — Sessions made it clear in his resignation letter, which has been made available to the public, that he was leaving per the president’s request.
Who will be replacing him in the long term is still an open question. The vacancy is one of an ever growing list that has marked the Trump administration; they set records for senior staff turnover towards the beginning.
In the meantime, others have joined Nadler in sounding an alarm.
Apparent incoming House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) insisted:
‘President Trump just removed Jeff Sessions. He wants an Attorney General to serve his interest, not the public. Mueller’s investigation and the independence of the DOJ must be protected. Whitaker and any nominee must commit to doing both. We will protect the rule of law.’
Democrats have made plenty of similar assertions in the past — the difference is that now in the lower house of Congress, they have the power to act on them. They managed dozens of pickups from all across the nation.
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