Trump forces AG to re­sign

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Eric Tucker and Michael Bal­samo

WASH­ING­TON» At­tor­ney General Jeff Ses­sions was pushed out Wed­nes­day after en­dur­ing more than a year of blis­ter­ing and per­sonal at­tacks from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who in­serted in his place a Repub­li­can Party loy­al­ist with author­ity to over­see the re­main­der of the spe­cial coun­sel’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The move has po­ten­tially omi­nous im­pli­ca­tions for spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s probe given that the new act­ing at­tor­ney general, Matthew Whi­taker, un­til now Ses­sions’ chief of staff, has ques­tioned the in­quiry’s scope and spoke pub­licly be­fore join­ing the Jus­tice De­part­ment about ways an at­tor­ney general could the­o­ret­i­cally stymie the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Con­gres­sional Democrats, con­cerned about pro­tect­ing Mueller, called on Whi­taker to re­cuse him­self from over­see­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in its fi­nal but po­ten­tially ex­plo­sive stages.

That duty has be­longed to Dep-

uty At­tor­ney General Rod Rosen­stein, who ap­pointed Mueller and closely mon­i­tors his work.

The res­ig­na­tion, in a onepage let­ter to Trump, came one day after Repub­li­cans lost con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and was the first of sev­eral ex­pected post-midterms Cabi­net and White House de­par­tures. Though Ses­sions was an early and prom­i­nent cam­paign backer of Trump, his de­par­ture let­ter lacked ef­fu­sive praise for the pres­i­dent and made clear the res­ig­na­tion came “at your re­quest.”

“Since the day I was hon­ored to be sworn in as at­tor­ney general of the United States, I came to work at the De­part­ment of Jus­tice ev­ery day de­ter­mined to do my duty and serve my coun­try,” Ses­sions wrote.

The de­par­ture was the cul­mi­na­tion of a toxic re­la­tion­ship that frayed just weeks into Ses­sions’ ten­ure, when he stepped aside from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­cause of his cam­paign ad­vo­cacy and fol­low­ing the rev­e­la­tion that he had met twice in 2016 with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador to the U.S.

Trump blamed the re­cusal for the ap­point­ment of Mueller, who took over the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion two months later and be­gan ex- amin­ing whether Trump’s hec­tor­ing of Ses­sions was part of a broader ef­fort to ob­struct the probe.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion has so far pro­duced 32 crim­i­nal charges and guilty pleas from four for­mer Trump aides. But the work is not done and crit­i­cal de­ci­sions await that could shape the re­main­der of Trump’s pres­i­dency.

Mueller’s grand jury, for in­stance, has heard tes­ti­mony for months about Trump con­fi­dant Roger Stone and what ad­vance knowl­edge he may have had about Rus­sian hack­ing of Demo­cratic emails. Mueller’s team has also been press­ing for an in­ter­view with Trump. And the de­part­ment is ex­pected at some point to re­ceive a con­fi­den­tial re­port of Mueller’s find­ings, though it’s un­clear how much will be pub­lic.

Sep­a­rately, Jus­tice De­part­ment pros­e­cu­tors in New York se­cured a guilty plea from Trump’s for­mer per­sonal lawyer, Michael Co­hen, who said the pres­i­dent di­rected him to ar­range hush-money pay­ments be­fore the 2016 elec­tion to two women who said they had sex with Trump.

Trump had re­peat­edly been talked out of fir­ing Ses­sions un­til after the midterms, but he told con­fi­dants in re­cent weeks that he wanted Ses­sions out as soon as pos­si­ble after the elec­tions, ac­cord­ing to a Repub­li­can close to the White House who was not au­tho­rized to pub­licly dis­cuss pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions.

The pres­i­dent de­flected ques­tions about Ses­sions’ ex­pected de­par­ture at a White House news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day. He did not men­tion that White House chief of staff John Kelly had called Ses­sions be­fore­hand to ask for his res­ig­na­tion. The un­dated let­ter was then sent to the White House.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment did not di­rectly an­swer whether Whi­taker would as­sume con­trol of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, with spokes­woman Sarah Is­gur Flores say­ing he would be “in charge of all mat­ters un­der the purview of the De­part­ment of Jus­tice.”

Rosen­stein re­mains at the de­part­ment and could still be in­volved in over­sight. He has pre­vi­ously said that he saw no ba­sis for fir­ing Mueller. Trump said Wed­nes­day that he did not plan to stop the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

With­out Ses­sions’ cam­paign or Rus­sia en­tan­gle­ments, there’s no le­gal rea­son Whi­taker couldn’t im­me­di­ately over­see the probe. And since Ses­sions tech­ni­cally re­signed in­stead of forc­ing the White House to fire him, he opened the door un­der fed­eral law to al­low­ing the pres­i­dent to choose his suc­ces­sor in­stead of sim­ply el­e­vat­ing Rosen­stein, said Univer­sity of Texas law pro­fes­sor Stephen Vladeck.

“Ses­sions did not do the thing he could have done to bet­ter pro­tect Rosen­stein, and through Rosen­stein, the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Vladeck said.

That left Whi­taker in charge, at least for now, though Democrats, in­clud­ing Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, said he should re­cuse him­self be­cause of his com­ments on the probe. Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Demo­crat on the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, said he wants “an­swers im­me­di­ately” and “we will hold peo­ple ac­count­able.”

Jeff Ses­sions was the U.S. at­tor­ney general un­til Wed­nes­day, when he re­signed. He said his res­ig­na­tion was re­quested by Pres­i­dent Trump.

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