TRUMP FORCES SESSIONS OUT
Attorney general had endured president’s wrath
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday after a yearlong public shaming campaign that raised questions about whether the president improperly interfered with the Justice Department’s inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Trump, who requested Sessions’ resignation, named Matthew Whitaker to serve as interim attorney general. Whitaker was Sessions’ chief of staff and had been considered for a variety of jobs in the Trump administration, including the No. 2 post at Justice or as White House counsel.
In his new role, Whitaker also will oversee special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, prompting
fears among Democratic lawmakers that Trump was seeking to derail the probe as it nears an end.
“Since the day I was honored to be sworn in as attorney general of the United States, I came to work at the Department of Justice every day determined to do my duty and serve my country,” Sessions said in a sevenparagraph letter. “I have done so to the best of my ability to support the fundamental legal processes that are the foundation of justice.”
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had been overseeing Mueller’s investigation until Whitaker’s appointment, was at the White House on Wednesday afternoon for a meeting, though he remained in his job. He was among those in an entourage of Justice leaders who accompanied Sessions as he exited the department for the last time Wednesday night.
In a statement later Wednesday, Whitaker called his appointment 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,” Whitaker said.
He described Sessions as “a dedicated public servant.”
“It has been a privilege to work under his leadership,” Whitaker said. “He is a man of integrity who has served this nation well.”
The departure of Sessions, one of Trump’s most vocal and earliest supporters during the 2016 campaign, was expected for weeks.
Laser-focused on Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, Trump savaged him in interviews, tweets and news conferences as “beleaguered,” often expressing “disappointment” in his attorney general.
“I don’t have an attorney general. It’s very sad,” Trump said in a September interview with Hill.TV. “I’m not happy at the border, I’m not happy with numerous things, not just this.”
Sessions’ recusal in March 2017 for failing to disclose election-year meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak – and Trump’s dismissal of FBI Director James Comey in May 2017 – prompted the appointment of Mueller, a former FBI director, as the Justice Department’s special counsel to direct the wide-ranging Russia inquiry.
Mueller’s appointment and the inquiry’s expansion to include a deep examination of the Trump family’s finances and possible obstruction of justice stoked the president’s attacks on the attorney general.
“I think you have to ask the question of who benefits from Sessions’ removal,” said Jimmy Gurule, who was an assistant attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. “And the answer is President Trump.”
Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who served under President George W. Bush, credited Sessions with “maintaining unusual equanimity and dignity under fire” while dutifully carrying out Trump’s agenda on a range of issues, including immigration and violent crime enforcement.
“He’s done all this under enormous pressure, and we know what that is,” Mukasey told USA TODAY, referring to unrelenting criticism from the president. “I can’t imagine how he’s been able to do this.”
Mukasey, a Sessions confidant whose portrait hangs in the attorney general’s fifth-floor conference room, characterized the atmosphere created by Trump’s public attacks as akin to a “psychodrama.”
Rather than walk away in the face of Trump’s attacks, Mukasey said, Sessions remained at the helm of the sprawling agency “for the welfare of the department.”
“For him to have done that is incredible,” Mukasey said.
In July 2017, Trump told The New York Times he would never have appointed the former Alabama senator had he known Sessions would disqualify himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. He repeated the line in a Rose Garden news conference the following week. “If he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have, quite simply, picked somebody else,” Trump said.
“I’m not happy at the border, I’m not happy with numerous things, not just this.”
President Donald Trump, on the job performance of Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Jeff Sessions was an early Donald Trump supporter.