A-G re­placed by Mueller critic

The Australian - - WORLD - CAMERON STE­WART WASH­ING­TON COR­RE­SPON­DENT Cameron Ste­wart is also US con­trib­u­tor for Sky News Aus­tralia

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion yes­ter­day to force the res­ig­na­tion of At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions has raised fears about the fu­ture of spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller and his Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

His de­par­ture means an Act­ing At­tor­ney-Gen­eral, Matt Whi­taker — a Mueller critic — will take over su­per­vi­sion of the Mueller probe, re­plac­ing Deputy At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein, who Mr Trump had also clashed with.

Mr Whi­taker wrote last year that he did not agree with the broad scope of the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which he said should not in­clude Mr Trump’s fi­nances.

“Mueller has come up to a red line in the Rus­sia 2016 elec­tion-med­dling in­ves­ti­ga­tion that he is dan­ger­ously close to cross­ing,” he wrote. In July last year, Mr Whi­taker also mused about a re­place­ment for Mr Ses­sions cut­ting off fund­ing to Mr Mueller and his team.

“So I could see a sce­nario where Jeff Ses­sions is re­placed with a re­cess ap­point­ment,” he said, “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.”

Demo­crat House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives leader Nancy Pelosi said the move was a “bla­tant at­tempt” by Mr Trump to un­der­mine and end the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“Given his record of threats to un­der­mine and weaken the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Mathew Whi­taker should re­cuse him­self from any in­volve­ment in Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion,’’ she tweeted. “Congress must take im­me­di­ate ac­tion to pro­tect the rule of law and the in­tegrity of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Mr Rosen­stein had pledged he would only fire Mr Mueller for gross mis­con­duct. Any move to re­move Mr Mueller would trig­ger a con­sti­tu­tional and po­lit­i­cal cri­sis for Mr Trump.

Mr Trump said yes­ter­day he be­lieved he had the power to sack Mr Mueller but had cho­sen not to.

“I could fire ev­ery­one right now, but I don’t want to be­cause po­lit­i­cally I don’t like stop­ping it,” he said be­fore news broke of Mr Ses­sions’s sack­ing. “It’s a dis­grace. It should never have been started, be­cause there is no crime.”

As part of his in­ves­ti­ga­tion Mr Mueller is look­ing into Mr Trump’s past state­ments seek­ing to fire Mr Ses­sions or force his res­ig­na­tion in an ef­fort to de­ter­mine whether those acts are part of a pat­tern of at­tempted ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.

The tim­ing of the de­par­ture of Mr Ses­sions sur­prised many in Wash­ing­ton, com­ing only hours af­ter the re­sults of the mid-term elec­tions were known. His res­ig­na­tion fol­lows al­most a year of crit­i­cism and at times ridicule of Mr Ses­sions by Mr Trump who was an­gered that he re­cused him­self from the Rus­sia probe.

“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. He will serve our Coun­try well …” Mr Trump tweeted. “… We thank At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions for his ser­vice, and wish him well! A per­ma­nent re­place­ment will be nom­i­nated at a later date.”

Mr Ses­sions was asked yes­ter­day by White House chief of staff John Kelly to sum­mit his res­ig­na­tion. Within hours, Mr Ses­sion wrote a let­ter to the Pres­i­dent.

“At your re­quest, I am sub­mit­ting my res­ig­na­tion,” he wrote. “Since the day I was hon­oured to be sworn in as At­tor­ney-Gen­eral of the United States, I came to work at the Depart­ment of Jus­tice ev­ery day to do my duty and serve my coun­try.

“I have done so to the best of my abil­ity. Work­ing to sup­port the fun­da­men­tal le­gal pro­cesses that are the foun­da­tion of jus­tice.” Mr Ses­sions ended his res­ig­na­tion let­ter say­ing: “Thank you for the op­por­tu­nity, Mr Pres­i­dent.’’

Mr Trump has had an on­go­ing feud with Mr Ses­sions ever since he re­cused him­self from over­sight of the FBI’s Rus­sia probe in March last year af­ter mis­lead­ing his Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing about his con­tacts with Rus­sian of­fi­cials.

His de­ci­sion meant that his deputy, Mr Rosen­stein, took over the probe.

Mr Trump be­lieves Mr Rosen­stein’s sub­se­quent de­ci­sion to ap­point a spe­cial coun­sel to take over the FBI’s Rus­sia in­quiry would not have hap­pened if Mr Ses­sions had re­mained in charge.

“Jeff Ses­sions never took con­trol of the Jus­tice Depart­ment and it’s sort of an in­cred­i­ble thing,” Mr Trump said ear­lier this year.

“Jeff Ses­sions re­cused him­self, which he shouldn’t have done, or he should have told me. He took my job (of­fer), and then he said: ‘I’m go­ing to re­cuse my­self.’ I said: ‘What kind of man is this?’

“You know, the only rea­son I gave him the job (was) be­cause I felt loy­alty, he was an orig­i­nal sup­porter.”

Mr Mueller’s sprawl­ing Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion is look­ing at the ex­tent of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion, the links be­tween Mr Trump’s cam­paign team and Rus­sia at that time, and whether Mr Trump ob­structed jus­tice in sack­ing the then head of the FBI, James Comey.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.