Trump pushes Ses­sions out of AG post

The Modesto Bee - - Front Page - BY PETER BAKER AND KATIE BENNER New York Times

WASH­ING­TON

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump forced out At­tor­ney General Jeff Ses­sions on Wed­nes­day and re­placed him with a loy­al­ist who will take charge of the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sia’s elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence, a de­fi­ant move just a day after a midterm elec­tion loss.

Ses­sions de­liv­ered his res­ig­na­tion let­ter to the White House at the re­quest of the pres­i­dent, and Trump tapped Matthew Whi­taker, Ses­sions’ chief of staff, as act­ing at­tor­ney general. In that ca­pac­ity, Whi­taker as­sumes con­trol of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, rais­ing ques­tions about the fu­ture of the in­quiry led by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller.

Whi­taker has pre­vi­ously ques­tioned the scope of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. In a col­umn for CNN last year, Whi­taker wrote that Mueller would be go­ing too far if he ex­am­ined the Trump fam­ily’s fi­nances.

“This would raise se­ri­ous con­cerns that the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion was a mere witch hunt,” Whi­taker wrote, echo­ing the pres­i­dent’s de­ri­sive de­scrip­tion of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Mueller has sub­poe­naed the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion for doc­u­ments re­lated to Rus­sia.

Un­til now, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion has been over­seen by Rod Rosen­stein, the deputy at­tor­ney general, be­cause Ses­sions re-

cused him­self, cit­ing his ac­tive role in Trump’s 2016 cam­paign. Be­cause Whi­taker has ex­pressed opin­ions about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Jus­tice De­part­ment ethics ad­vis­ers may be asked to weigh whether he should also re­cuse him­self. If that were to hap­pen, Rosen­stein would con­tinue to over­see the spe­cial coun­sel.

Whi­taker had no plans to make any im­me­di­ate pub­lic com­ments about Mueller, an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said.

The ouster of Ses­sions, 71, came just a day after midterm elec­tions that handed con­trol of the House to Democrats, deal­ing a ma­jor blow to Trump for the fi­nal two years of his term. Repub­li­cans pre­served their hold on the Se­nate and in­creased their ma­jor­ity slightly, mak­ing it like­lier that Trump will be able to con­firm a re­place­ment.

But House Democrats have made clear that they plan to use the sub­poena power that will come with their ma­jor­ity to re­open the lower cham­ber’s own in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Rus­sia mat­ter.

The ouster of Ses­sions ended a part­ner­ship that soured al­most from the start and de­gen­er­ated into one of the most ac­ri­mo­nious pub­lic stand­offs be­tween a com­man­der-inchief and a se­nior Cabi­net mem­ber in mod­ern U.S. his­tory.

John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, called Ses­sions be­fore his post-elec­tion news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day to tell the at­tor­ney general that Trump wanted him to step down, the ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said. Trump, who did not speak with Ses­sions him­self, then ducked ques­tions about Ses­sions’ fate at the news con­fer­ence.

Ses­sions then had his let­ter, which was un­dated, de­liv­ered to the White House.

Ses­sions walked out Wed­nes­day evening to ap­plause from more than 150 em­ploy­ees who gath­ered in a court­yard at the Jus­tice De­part­ment.

Trump an­nounced the res­ig­na­tion and Whi­taker’s as­sign­ment on Twit­ter.

The pres­i­dent has reg­u­larly at­tacked the Jus­tice De­part­ment and Ses­sions, blam­ing the at­tor­ney general for the specter of the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion into ties be­tween Trump’s cam­paign and Rus­sia.

Trump has said for months that he wished to re­place Ses­sions, but law­mak­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials be­lieved that fir­ing the at­tor­ney general be­fore the midterm elec­tions would have had nega­tive con­se­quences for Repub­li­cans in tight races. So it came as lit­tle sur­prise when Ses­sions re­signed the day after the midterms were over.

Trump blamed Ses­sions for re­cus­ing him­self from over­see­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in its early stages, lead­ing to the ap­point­ment of a spe­cial coun­sel.

“He took the job and then he said, ‘I’m go­ing to re­cuse my­self.’ I said, ‘What kind of a man is this?’” Trump said this year in a Fox News in­ter­view. “I wanted to stay un­in­volved. But when every­body sees what’s go­ing on in the Jus­tice De­part­ment – I al­ways put ‘jus­tice’ now with quotes.”

The deputy at­tor­ney general, Rosen­stein, would nor­mally be in line to be­come the act­ing at­tor­ney general, but Trump has com­plained pub­licly about Rosen­stein, too.

In­stalling Whi­taker could clear the way for Trump to force out Mueller. To dis­miss a spe­cial coun­sel, the pres­i­dent has to or­der the at­tor­ney general or, in the case of a re­cusal, the deputy at­tor­ney general to carry it out. Rosen­stein has said that he sees no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to dis­miss Mueller. Trump has al­ready fired James Comey, the FBI di­rec­tor orig­i­nally over­see­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Whi­taker’s as­cen­dance to the top of the Jus­tice De­part­ment shows how much loy­alty means to Trump. The pres­i­dent has long re­garded Whi­taker as his eyes and ears in­side a de­part­ment that he con­sid­ers an en­emy in­sti­tu­tion.

A U.S. at­tor­ney, Whi­taker has been a fre­quent White House vis­i­tor.

Trump also pub­licly bad­gered Ses­sions to open in­ves­ti­ga­tions into his de­feated ri­val, Hil­lary Clin­ton, and other Democrats, and when Ses­sions did not, the pres­i­dent ex­co­ri­ated him. Crit­ics from both par­ties said the pres­i­dent was shred­ding the tra­di­tional in­de­pen­dence of the law en­force­ment agen­cies in seek­ing what ap­peared to be po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated pros­e­cu­tions.

In March, Ses­sions said he still be­lieved he did the right thing in re­cus­ing him­self.

“I don’t think the at­tor­ney general can ask every­body else in the de­part­ment to fol­low the rules if the at­tor­ney general doesn’t fol­low them,” he told Time mag­a­zine.

JABIN BOTSFORD Wash­ing­ton Post

Jeff Ses­sions has re­signed at the pres­i­dent’s re­quest.

Matthew Whi­taker

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