Trump forces AG Ses­sions to re­sign

Belleville News-Democrat - - Front Page - BY PETER BAKER AND KATIE BENNER New York Times WASH­ING­TON

Pres­i­dent Don­ald 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 com­man­derin-chief and a se­nior Cabi­net mem­ber in mod­ern U.S. his­tory.

Ses­sions’ res­ig­na­tion, made at the pres­i­dent’s re­quest, was be­ing de­liv­ered to John Kelly, 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,” Ses­sions said in his let­ter. He added, “Most im­por­tantly as my time as at­tor­ney general, we have re­stored and up­held the rule of law,” and thanked the pres­i­dent.

Matthew Whi­taker, Ses­sions’ chief of staff, will take over as act­ing at­tor­ney general, Trump said in a tweet an­nounc­ing the shake-up. Whi­taker will now as­sume su­per­vi­sion of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion led by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller.

“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.”

His res­ig­na­tion came barely an hour after a news con­fer­ence in which Trump was asked whether Ses­sions and Rod J. Rosen­stein, the deputy at­tor­ney general, still had job se­cu­rity. He dodged the ques­tion. “I’d rather an­swer that at a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent time,” the pres­i­dent said.

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

Trump has said for months that he wished to re­place 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 Ses­sions re­signed the day after the midterms were over.

Trump blamed Ses­sions, 71, 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?’” 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 Rosen­stein, would nor­mally be in line to be­come the act­ing at­tor­ney general, but Trump has com­plained pub­licly about Rosen­stein, too. Since Ses­sions is re­cused from all elec­tion-re­lated mat­ters, Rosen­stein over­sees Mueller, who is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Trump cam­paign’s in­ter­ac­tions with Rus­sia.

To dis­miss a spe­cial coun­sel, the pres­i­dent has to or­der the at­tor­ney general or, in the case of a re­cusal, the deputy at­tor­ney general to carry it out. Rosen­stein has said that he sees no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to dis­miss Mueller. Trump has al­ready fired James Comey, the FBI di­rec­tor orig­i­nally over­see­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

In push­ing out his at­tor­ney general, the pres­i­dent cast aside one of his ear­li­est and strong­est sup­port­ers.

In Fe­bru­ary 2016, Ses­sions be­came the first sit­ting se­na­tor to en­dorse Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, and in the months lead­ing up to the elec­tion, he be­came one of the can­di­date’s clos­est na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vis­ers.

Only weeks after he was con­firmed as the United States’ top law en­force­ment of­fi­cer, Ses­sions be­came en­snared in the Rus­sia in­quiries that have con­sumed Trump’s pres­i­dency. He re­cused him­self from over­see­ing the Jus­tice De­part­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion in March 2017, after rev­e­la­tions that he had failed to re­port en­coun­ters with Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak of Rus­sia dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign.

At the time, Ses­sions said there was noth­ing ne­far­i­ous about those meet­ings, al­though he ac­knowl­edged that he “should have slowed down” and been more thought­ful in deny­ing any con­tacts with Rus­sian of­fi­cials dur­ing his Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion process. His re­cusal was one of his first pub­lic acts as at­tor­ney general.

Trump has long be­lieved that those who have sup­ported and de­fended him are most en­ti­tled to high-rank­ing po­si­tions in the fed­eral govern­ment. Ses­sions, in Trump’s mind, had be­trayed that ax­iom.

Trump also pub­licly bad­gered Ses­sions to open in­ves­ti­ga­tions into his de­feated ri­val, Hil­lary Clin­ton, and other Democrats, and when Ses­sions did not, the pres­i­dent ex­co­ri­ated the at­tor­ney general. Crit­ics from both par­ties said the pres­i­dent was shred­ding the tra­di­tional in­de­pen­dence of the law en­force­ment agen­cies in seek­ing what ap­peared to be po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated pros­e­cu­tions.

For the most part, Ses­sions made no pub­lic re­tort. But after the pres­i­dent chided him in Fe­bru­ary for leav­ing an in­quiry into the FBI’s han­dling of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion to an in­spec­tor general rather than con­duct­ing his own re­view, Ses­sions pushed back. “As long as I am the at­tor­ney general,” he said, “I will con­tinue to dis­charge my du­ties with in­tegrity and honor.”

In March, Ses­sions said he still be­lieved he did the right thing in re­cus­ing him­self.

When Trump said that Ses­sions “never took con­trol of the Jus­tice De­part­ment,” Ses­sions fired back hours later, say­ing in a rare pub­lic re­buke that he “took con­trol of the De­part­ment of Jus­tice the day I was sworn in.”

“The De­part­ment of Jus­tice,” Ses­sions said, “will not be im­prop­erly in­flu­enced by po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions.”

Ses­sions seemed more aligned with the pres­i­dent when he fired An­drew McCabe as deputy di­rec­tor of the FBI barely a day be­fore McCabe was due to re­tire, jeop­ar­diz­ing his pen­sion. Trump for months had pub­licly be­rated McCabe, a Repub­li­can, be­cause McCabe’s wife had run for of­fice as a Demo­crat with fi­nan­cial sup­port from a friend of Clin­ton’s.

In fir­ing him, Ses­sions cited an in­spec­tor general in­ves­ti­ga­tion that found that McCabe had not been fully can­did about his in­ter­ac­tions with a re­porter, an as­ser­tion the for­mer deputy di­rec­tor de­nied.

Jeff Ses­sions

Matt Whi­taker

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