Attorney General Jeff Sessions stepped down Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced on Twitter.
Sessions’s Chief of Staff Matthew Whitaker will be the new acting attorney general, Trump announced.
“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,” the president tweeted. “He will serve our Country well. We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date.”
The move means that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will no longer oversee special counsel Bob Mueller’s Russia investigation. Trump has had a contentious relationship with Sessions since the attorney general recused himself in the probe.
“At your request, I am submitting my resignation,” Sessions wrote. Read his resignation letter below:
Sessions, 71, was the first member of the Senate to endorse Trump in the 2016 race. The goodwill between the two ended after Sessions recused himself when it was revealed he falsely denied having any contact with then-Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. “I don’t have an attorney general,” Trump complained in September after repeatedly attacking Sessions for not “protecting” him, The Washington Post reported. The Post reported that Trump mocked Sessions in private, calling him “Mr. Magoo.”
“He took the job and then he said, ‘I’m going to recuse myself.’ I said, ‘What kind of a man is this?’” Trump told Fox News earlier this year. “I wanted to stay uninvolved. But when everybody sees what’s going on in the Justice Department — I always put ‘justice’ now with quotes.”
Politico previously reported that top aides, namely Chief of Staff John Kelly and former White House counsel Don McGahn, had urged Trump not to fire Sessions until the Mueller probe was complete. The Washington Post reports that Mueller is looking at whether Trump’s statements about wanting to fire Sessions or force his resignation are part of a pattern of an attempt to obstruct justice.
Sessions fired back at Trump’s repeated criticism in February. “As long as I am the Attorney General, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this Department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution,” he said in a statement.
Sessions tried to resign at least twice in the past, The New York Times reported. In June 2017, Sessions agreed to resign after Trump berated him in the Oval Office and accused him of “disloyalty.” The Times reported that then-chief of staff Reince Priebus ran out of the building after Sessions to stop him from leaving. Two months later, Priebus intervened again, warning Sessions that “If I get this resignation, you are in for a spiral of calamity that makes Comey look like a picnic.”
The New York Times reports that the move “might clear the way” for Trump to fire Mueller. If Trump chooses to keep Whitaker as the acting attorney general rather than nominate a permanent replacement, Whitaker would be allowed by law to serve up to 210 days.
Whitaker was hired by Sessions one month after he published a CNN op-ed criticizing the Mueller probe for overreaching and calling for Rosenstein to limit the probe.
Any investigation into President Trump’s finances or the finances of his family would require Mueller to return to Rod Rosenstein for additional authority under Mueller’s appointment as special counsel.
If he were to continue to investigate the financial relationships without a broadened scope in his appointment, then this would raise serious concerns that the special counsel’s investigation was a mere witch hunt. If Mueller is indeed going down this path, Rosenstein should act to ensure the investigation is within its jurisdiction and within the authority of the original directive.
In an appearance on CNN in July 2017 before he was appointed by Sessions, Whitaker proposed a plan to replace the attorney general to halt the Mueller probe.
“I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment and that attorney general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt,” Whitaker said at the time.
Whitaker also downplayed Donald Trump Jr.’s infamous meeting with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer at Trump Tower during the campaign to obtain “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
“You would always take the meeting,” Whitaker told CNN at the time. “You certainly want to have any advantage, any legal advantage you can” as a political candidate.
The New York Times reported that Whitaker is a “Trump loyalist” described by Kelly as the White House’s “eyes and ears” at the Department of Justice.