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Trump fires Ses­sions and taps Mueller critic as act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral

New York Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - BY CHRIS SOM­MER­FELDT AND DE­NIS SLATTERY

Pres­i­dent Trump fired At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions on Wed­nes­day, throw­ing the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion into tur­moil and cap­ping off a lon­grun­ning feud be­tween the two men that will go down as one of the most ran­corous po­lit­i­cal stand­offs in modern mem­ory.

The Pres­i­dent an­nounced Ses­sions will be tem­po­rar­ily re­placed by his own chief of staff, Matthew Whi­taker, who will now over­see spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller's probe into pos­si­ble co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the Trump cam­paign and the Krem­lin dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion.

Whi­taker, a Trump loy­al­ist and for­mer U.S. at­tor­ney in Iowa, has been openly crit­i­cal of Mueller's in­quiry.

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

In a res­ig­na­tion let­ter, Ses­sions made clear in the very first sen­tence that the end of his Jus­tice De­part­ment ten­ure was not vol­un­tary.

“Mr. Pres­i­dent,” Ses­sions wrote. “At your re­quest, I am sub­mit­ting my res­ig­na­tion.”

Ses­sions' de­par­ture as the na­tion's top law en­force­ment of­fi­cial comes af­ter months of pub­lic spats with the Pres­i­dent and casts doubt over the fu­ture of Mueller's in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

It was not im­me­di­ately known if Whi­taker plans to clamp down on the probe or whether it will still be over­seen in some ca­pac­ity by Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein, who has su­per­vised Mueller since Ses­sions re­cused him­self in March 2017 amid rev­e­la­tions he had twice met with the Krem­lin's am­bas­sador to the U.S. while serv­ing on Trump's cam­paign.

How­ever, a for­mer Jus­tice De­part­ment of­fi­cial said it is cer­tainly within Whi­taker's au­thor­ity as act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral to limit the scope of Mueller's in­ves­ti­ga­tion and be­come the law en­force­ment ally Trump never saw in Ses­sions.

“He's now ef­fec­tively the top of the Jus­tice De­part­ment,” the ex-of­fi­cial told the Daily News.

Whi­taker once opined about a sce­nario in which Trump could fire Ses­sions and then ap­point an act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral who could sti­fle the fund­ing of Mueller's probe. In that sce­nario, Mueller's bud­get could be re­duced "so low that his in­ves­ti­ga­tion grinds to al­most a halt," Whi­taker said dur­ing a July 2017 in­ter­view with CNN.

In an op-ed pub­lished by the net­work a month later, Whi­taker sided with Trump in ar­gu­ing that Mueller had crossed a “red line” by look­ing into the Pres­i­dent's per­sonal fi­nances.

“This in­for­ma­tion is deeply con­cern­ing to me,” Whi­taker, 49, wrote. “It does not take a lawyer or even a for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor like my­self to con­clude that in­ves­ti­gat­ing Don­ald Trump's fi­nances or his fam­ily's fi­nances falls com­pletely out­side of the realm of his 2016 cam­paign and al­le­ga­tions that the cam­paign co­or­di­nated with the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment or any­one else.”

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and even some Repub­li­cans quickly called on Whi­taker to re­cuse him­self from in­volve­ment in the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion, point­ing to his pub­lic slights against the in­quiry.

“Given his record of threats to un­der­mine and weaken the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Matthew Whi­taker should re­cuse him­self from any in­volve­ment,” Pelosi tweeted. “Congress must take im­me­di­ate ac­tion to pro­tect the rule of law and in­tegrity of the in­ves­tiga-

tion.”

Two months af­ter Ses­sions' re­cusal, Rosen­stein ap­pointed Mueller to take over the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion from ex-FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey, who had just been fired by Trump.

Ever since, Trump has pub­licly in­sulted Ses­sions, call­ing him “be­lea­guered” and “weak” while blast­ing him for not tak­ing con­trol of Mueller's probe, which the Pres­i­dent fre­quently calls a “witch hunt,” even though it has se­cured in­dict­ments and guilty pleas from nearly 40 Trump as­so­ci­ates and Rus­sian op­er­a­tives.

Ses­sions has pushed back, is­su­ing a state­ment in Au­gust pledg­ing to not be “in­flu­enced by po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions.”

Trump has long toyed with the idea of fir­ing Ses­sions and re­plac­ing him with some­one who could rein in Mueller's in­ves­tiga­tive abil­i­ties.

Hav­ing re­claimed con­trol of the House in Tues­day's midterm elec­tions, Dems balked at Ses­sions' fir­ing and pledged to in­ves­ti­gate what went into Trump's de­ci­sion.

“There is no mis­tak­ing what this means, and what is at stake: this is a con­sti­tu­tion­ally per­ilous mo­ment for our coun­try and for the Pres­i­dent,” said Rep. Jer­rold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who's ex­pected to be named chair­man of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee when Congress comes back in ses­sion. “Trump may think he has the power to hire and fire whomever he pleases, but he can­not take such ac­tion if it is de­ter­mined that it is for the pur­poses of sub­vert­ing the rule of law and ob­struct­ing jus­tice. If he abuses his of­fice in such a fash­ion, then there will be con­se­quences.”

In ad­di­tion to Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence, Mueller is in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Trump ob­structed jus­tice by fir­ing Comey. Ses­sions' ax­ing could be­come an­other topic of in­ves­ti­ga­tion for the spe­cial coun­sel, ac­cord­ing to le­gal ex­perts.

“Trump was an­gry that Ses­sions would not in­ter­fere with, stop, or re­strict the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” tweeted Re­nato Mar­i­otti, a for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor in Illi­nois. “This and other ev­i­dence could in­di­cate that Trump fired Ses­sions with the in­tent of im­ped­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

With Tues­day's midterm elec­tions widen­ing the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate, Trump's re­place­ment for Ses­sions will likely sail through the nom­i­na­tion process, although con­tentious con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings are sure to en­sue, with Democrats ex­pected to grill any nom­i­nee on Mueller's probe and the lim­its of pres­i­den­tial pow­ers.

A per­son close to Trump said Ses­sions' exit was a long time com­ing but ex­pressed sur­prise at how quickly the Pres­i­dent moved to boot him af­ter the midterms.

“I would have thought they would have waited un­til at least af­ter Thanks­giv­ing or at the very least un­til af­ter lunch,” the source told The News. “But un­pre­dictabil­ity is the corner­stone of a good re­al­ity TV show."

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions on Wed­nes­day be­came lat­est cab­i­net mem­ber to be shown the door by Pres­i­dent Trump.

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