Rus­sia probe fears as Ses­sions fired

The Phnom Penh Post - - FRONT PAGE -

PRES­I­DENT Don­ald Trump on Wed­nes­day fired At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions a day af­ter a heated midterm vote, nam­ing a loy­al­ist to re­place him in a move that raises ques­tions over the fu­ture of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The ax­ing capped more than a year of bit­ter crit­i­cism by the pres­i­dent over his le­gal ad­vi­sor’s de­ci­sion to re­cuse him­self from the probe into Moscow’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion, paving the way for the ap­point­ment of Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller.

In an­nounc­ing the res­ig­na­tion in a tweet that thanked the for­mer Alabama se­na­tor “for his ser­vice” – Trump right away named as act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral Ses­sions’s chief of staff, Matthew Whi­taker.

The an­nounce­ment set off im­me­di­ate alarm bells: Whi­taker has been crit­i­cal of the broad scope granted to Mueller’s team to probe be­yond al­le­ga­tions that Trump’s cam­paign col­luded with Rus­sia in 2016, into other ties be­tween Trump, his fam­ily and aides, and Rus­sia – an in­ves­ti­ga­tion the pres­i­dent calls a “witch hunt”.

In an op-ed in Au­gust last year he pub­licly urged Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein – who over­sees the probe – to “limit the scope of his in­ves­ti­ga­tion to the four cor­ners of the or­der ap­point­ing him spe­cial coun­sel”.

As act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, Whi­taker now has the power to wrest over­sight away from Rosen­stein and take charge him­self.

Demo­cratic Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer im­me­di­ately called on

Whi­taker to re­cuse him­self from the probe as his pre­de­ces­sor had, “given his pre­vi­ous com­ments ad­vo­cat­ing de­fund­ing and im­pos­ing lim­i­ta­tions” on it.

Se­na­tor Bernie San­ders, a for­mer pres­i­den­tial hope­ful, went fur­ther, tweet­ing that “any at­tempt by the pres­i­dent or the Jus­tice Depart­ment to in­ter­fere with Mueller’s probe would be an ob­struc­tion of jus­tice and im­peach­able of­fence.”

They were joined in their de­mands by Repub­li­can Mitt Rom­ney, a for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and fre­quent Trump critic who won a US Se­nate seat in Tues­day’s midterm.

Thank­ing Ses­sions for his ser­vice, Rom­ney said that it was “im­per­a­tive that the im­por­tant work of the Jus­tice Depart­ment con­tin­ues, and that the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion pro­ceeds to its con­clu­sion unim­peded.”

Whi­taker him­self, mean­while, of­fered lit­tle clue about his in­ten­tions in a bland state- ment to re­porters that praised his for­mer boss as a “ded­i­cated pub­lic ser­vant” and said he would work to lead a depart­ment that con­formed to the “high­est eth­i­cal stan­dards”.

Trump’s first backer

Ses­sions was the first ca­su­alty of a cabi­net shake-up that had been ex­pected from Trump fol­low­ing the midterm elec­tions where his Repub­li­can party lost con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives but re­tained the Se­nate.

But his de­par­ture was an­tic­i­pated since early this year, af­ter he en­dured with­er­ing and re­peated crit­i­cism from the pres­i­dent over the legally trou­bled ban on Mus­lim trav­ellers Trump sought when he came into of­fice, and over the Mueller probe.

“At your re­quest, I am sub­mit­ting my res­ig­na­tion,” Ses­sions said in the first line of a let­ter ad­dressed to Trump, re­leased by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice.

Ses­sions was the first US se­na­tor to back Trump’s pres­i­den­tial run in 2016, giv­ing the New York real es­tate bil­lion­aire cred­i­bil­ity against a broad field of Repub­li­can stal­warts. The two were re­port­edly brought to­gether by a shared wish to crack down on im­mi­gra­tion.

Af­ter tak­ing of­fice in Jan­uary last year, the for­mer pros­e­cu­tor launched tough law-and-or­der poli­cies and a broad ban on Mus­lim trav­ellers promised by Trump dur­ing the cam­paign.

He was in the van­guard of ad­min­is­tra­tion pushes to ex­pand the ranks of fed­eral law en­force­ment, fill courts with con­ser­va­tive judges, and crack down on Cen­tral Amer­i­can gangs such as MS-13.

But the pres­i­dent was in­fu­ri­ated when in March last year Ses­sions re­cused him­self from the nascent Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, be­cause of his own Rus­sian con­tacts dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign. In­stead, he gave Rosen­stein that au­thor­ity.

When Trump weeks later fired FBI di­rec­tor James Comey in anger at the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Rosen­stein stunned the ad­min­is­tra­tion by nam­ing Mueller, a for­mer FBI chief, to lead the probe as an in­de­pen­dent pros­e­cu­tor. That struc­ture, with Ses­sions re­cused and Rosen­stein su­per­vis­ing Mueller, has in­su­lated the in­ves­ti­ga­tion from out­side in­ter­fer­ence.

Still, Trump has re­peat­edly ac­cused Mueller of run­ning an il­le­gal in­ves­ti­ga­tion staffed by Democrats and threat­ened to shut it down.

Mat­ters though were clearly com­ing to a head af­ter Mueller racked up in­dict­ments against 34 peo­ple and three com­pa­nies, in di­rect and spin-off cases. Eight guilty pleas have re­sulted, and one jury trial con­vic­tion.

Most no­tably, sev­eral top Trump aides have agreed to co­op­er­ate: for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor Michael Flynn; for­mer cam­paign chair Paul Manafort; for­mer vice chair Richard Gates; and for­mer Trump Or­gan­i­sa­tion vice-pres­i­dent Michael Co­hen, a lawyer who used to work as Trump’s per­sonal fixer.

Mueller was ex­pected to un­veil in the com­ing weeks new in­dict­ments, pos­si­bly against 2016 cam­paign con- sul­tant Roger Stone and Trump’s son Don­ald Jr.

More­over, Mueller’s team and theWhite House have been hag­gling for months over whether the pres­i­dent him­self would an­swer ques­tions. Mueller is known to be ex­am­in­ing whether Trump ob­structed jus­tice in fir­ing Comey – and other acts.

In ad­di­tion, the White House has shown con­cern that Mueller is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the fi­nances of the Trump Or­gan­i­sa­tion, and links to Rus­sia.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Cambodia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.