Ses­sions ousted with ques­tions loom­ing

Trump by­passes Rosen­stein, names Whi­taker to over­see Mueller probe

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY JEFF MOR­DOCK

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions was fired Wed­nes­day, leav­ing a host of ques­tions about what comes next for the on­go­ing spe­cial coun­sel probe, crim­i­nal jus­tice and im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment.

For­mally, Mr. Ses­sions re­signed, but the move came at Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­quest less than 24 hours af­ter the midterm elec­tions.

Mr. Trump said on Twit­ter that he had named Matthew G. Whi­taker, the de­part­ment’s chief of staff, to be­come act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, leapfrog­ging Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein.

“He will serve our coun­try well,” the pres­i­dent said of Mr. Whi­taker. “We thank At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions for his ser­vice and wish him well! A per­ma­nent re­place­ment will be nom­i­nated at a later date.”

Democrats said the move to oust Mr. Ses­sions could pre­cip­i­tate a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis be­cause it could be seen as an ef­fort to de­rail spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Rus­sian med­dling and Trump cam­paign fig­ures’ be­hav­ior.

Mr. Rosen­stein had been over­see­ing that in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter Mr. Ses­sions re­cused him­self from Rus­sia-re­lated mat­ters, but Mr. Whi­taker will now take charge.

In a state­ment, the act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral called his post “a true honor.”

“I am com­mit­ted to lead­ing a fair de­part­ment with the high­est eth­i­cal stan­dards, that up­holds the rule of law and seeks jus­tice for all Amer­i­cans,” he said.

Prior to join­ing the Jus­tice De­part­ment, Mr. Whi­taker served as a U.S. at­tor­ney and politi­cian in Iowa.

Last year, he wrote a col­umn for CNN com­plain­ing about the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion and sug­gest­ing ways the pres­i­dent could shut it down with­out fir­ing the spe­cial coun­sel.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Demo­crat, said Mr. Whi­taker should re­cuse him­self be­cause of those com­ments and leave the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Mr. Rosen­stein’s hands.

Other Democrats de­manded that Congress ap­prove leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect Mr. Mueller from be­ing fired or hav­ing his ju­ris­dic­tion lim­ited.

“Act­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Whi­taker has made his in­ten­tions clear to do the

pres­i­dent’s bid­ding and stop Mueller. This move could lead our na­tion into a con­sti­tu­tional con­fronta­tion,” said Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illi­nois, Mr. Schumer’s top lieu­tenant.

Mr. Ses­sions had been on thin ice for 18 months, dat­ing back to his re­cusal from Rus­sia mat­ters and then from Mr. Rosen­stein’s de­ci­sion to ap­point Mr. Mueller as spe­cial coun­sel.

Mr. Trump has re­peat­edly re­ferred to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.”

The pres­i­dent did not call Mr. Ses­sions to ask for his res­ig­na­tion, ac­cord­ing to a source. In­stead, that call was made by the pres­i­dent’s chief of staff, Gen. John F. Kelly.

The deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral typ­i­cally would re­place an out­go­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, but Mr. Trump in­voked the Fed­eral Va­can­cies Re­form Act to pass over Mr. Rosen­stein, who has also clashed with the pres­i­dent, and to se­lect Mr. Whi­taker.

With the Repub­li­cans los­ing the House ma­jor­ity on Tues­day, Democrats have al­ready threat­ened hear­ings on Mr. Trump’s de­ci­sion to place Mr. Whi­taker at the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s helm.

Rep. Jer­rold Nadler, the New York Demo­crat who is set to be­come chair­man of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, tweeted a prom­ise to hold Mr. Trump ac­count­able. “Amer­i­cans must have an­swers im­me­di­ately,” he said.

Dur­ing a press con­fer­ence be­fore the Ses­sions res­ig­na­tion, Mr. Trump again dis­par­aged the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion but sig­naled that he wouldn’t force it to end.

“I could fire ev­ery­body right now,” he said. “But I don’t want to stop it. Po­lit­i­cally, I don’t like stop­ping it.”

He did not tele­graph the loom­ing Ses­sions de­ci­sion dur­ing the press con­fer­ence, yet he has been say­ing as re­cently as Septem­ber that his at­tor­ney gen­eral would be out of of­fice af­ter the midterm elec­tions.

The first sit­ting sen­a­tor to en­dorse Mr. Trump’s can­di­dacy in 2016, Mr. Ses­sions be­came a fre­quent punch­ing bag for the pres­i­dent’s frus­tra­tion with the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Mr. Trump pub­licly fumed over Mr. Ses­sions’ re­cusal and called his at­tor­ney gen­eral “an id­iot” and “dis­grace­ful.” He said he would not have picked Mr. Ses­sions for the Jus­tice De­part­ment po­si­tion if he had known be­fore­hand that the at­tor­ney gen­eral would re­cuse him­self.

He com­plained that the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s crim­i­nal prose­cu­tions of two Repub­li­can House mem­bers could hurt the party’s chance to main­tain the ma­jor­ity. Both of those Repub­li­cans ap­pear to have won their races Tues­day, though Repub­li­cans lost the House ma­jor­ity.

Mr. Ses­sions sub­mit­ted his res­ig­na­tion last year shortly af­ter the spe­cial coun­sel was ap­pointed, but Mr. Trump re­fused to ac­cept it — though he also con­tin­ued to mock his at­tor­ney gen­eral.

The frac­tured re­la­tion­ship came to a head in Au­gust when Mr. Trump told Fox News that Mr. Ses­sions failed to take con­trol of cor­rup­tion at the Jus­tice De­part­ment. He said Mr. Ses­sions was at­tor­ney gen­eral only be­cause of his loy­alty to the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

In a rare re­buke of Mr. Trump, Mr. Ses­sions is­sued a state­ment say­ing he would not be “im­prop­erly in­flu­enced” by po­lit­i­cal pres­sures.

Mr. Ses­sions de­fended his ten­ure in the res­ig­na­tion let­ter.

“We have re­stored and up­held the rule of law — a glo­ri­ous tra­di­tion that each of us has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to safe­guard,” Mr. Ses­sions wrote. “We have op­er­ated with in­tegrity and have law­fully and ag­gres­sively ad­vanced the pol­icy agenda of this ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Mr. Ses­sions had over­turned the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s prose­cu­tion rules, sued sanc­tu­ary cities, poured re­sources into fight­ing the opi­oid epi­demic, backed up the pres­i­dent’s tough talk on vi­o­lent crime and even shaped an­titrust poli­cies in line with Mr. Trump’s cam­paign prom­ises.

Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ed­win Meese III called Mr. Ses­sions one of the best Jus­tice De­part­ment chiefs in his­tory.

“He’s re­stored the de­part­ment to its ba­sic role as a ma­chine of crim­i­nal jus­tice as well as be­ing a cham­pion of lib­erty,” he said. “He has made sure the de­part­ment re­turned to the path of con­sti­tu­tional fidelity, chang­ing the po­si­tion of the gov­ern­ment on a num­ber of con­sti­tu­tional is­sues that he went on to win in the Supreme Court.”

Although Mr. Whi­taker ap­pears to be an un­abashed con­ser­va­tive based on his failed bid for the U.S. Se­nate in Iowa, it is un­clear how many of Mr. Ses­sions’ poli­cies he will pur­sue.

Mr. Ses­sions’ ouster also fu­eled ques­tions about the fu­ture of Mr. Rosen­stein. He was at the White House for a pre­vi­ously sched­uled meet­ing Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon af­ter Mr. Whi­taker was named act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Mr. Rosen­stein has also been a fre­quent tar­get of the pres­i­dent’s ire. Yet Mr. Trump passed on a chance to get rid of him af­ter The New York Times re­ported in Septem­ber that Mr. Rosen­stein dis­cussed se­cretly record­ing the pres­i­dent and in­vok­ing the 25th Amend­ment to re­move him from of­fice.

The two talked aboard Air Force One in Oc­to­ber, af­ter which Mr. Trump said he had no plans to fire Mr. Rosen­stein and that their re­la­tion­ship was pos­i­tive.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

FIRED: Jeff Ses­sions gave Pres­i­dent Trump his let­ter of res­ig­na­tion “at your re­quest” af­ter en­dur­ing blis­ter­ing and per­sonal at­tacks for more than a year.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Jeff Ses­sions was the first sit­ting sen­a­tor to en­dorse Don­ald Trump’s can­di­dacy in 2016, but he be­came a punch­ing bag for the pres­i­dent’s frus­tra­tion with his re­cusal and with spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­volve­ment.

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