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 collision 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 was planning on making any changes to his team. He did not mention Sessions, and said he was overall “extremely” happy with his Cabinet.
Sessions’ departure immediately raises questions about the future of Mueller’s investigation.
Whitaker, who is expected to now oversee the Mueller investigation, wrote an op-ed for CNN.com in August, 2017, arguing the Mueller would be going too far if he were investigating Trump’s finances.
“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. “That goes beyond the scope of the appointment of the special counsel.”
On Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) 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.
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), poised to become House Judiciary Committee chairman, said, “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.” When they take control in January, Democrats will have subpoena power, a potent tool to use in their own investigation.