Our view: Ses­sions’ firing poses grave threat to Mueller in­quiry

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS -

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions has been a dead man walk­ing for months. On Wed­nes­day, just one day af­ter the midterm elec­tion, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump finally put him out of his mis­ery — while open­ing the way for more mis­ery for the na­tion.

Ses­sions was forced out by a pres­i­dent who’d been cy­ber­bul­ly­ing him for months and un­der­min­ing him for even longer, ever since Ses­sions had the temer­ity to do the right thing in March 2017 by re­cus­ing him­self from the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 cam­paign.

That led to the ap­point­ment of spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller by Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein. Trump was out­raged, and his at­tacks on Ses­sions, one of his ear­li­est and staunch­est sup­port­ers, only grew more shame­ful and de­ri­sive over time.

Worse than Ses­sions’ ouster is Trump’s choice of his re­place­ment. The pres­i­dent quickly named Matthew Whi­taker, who has been Ses­sions’ chief of staff, to be act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, giv­ing him over­sight of Mueller, who has al­ready in­dicted or got­ten guilty pleas from more than 30 peo­ple and won a con­vic­tion against for­mer Trump cam­paign chair Paul Manafort.

Whi­taker’s main qual­ification seems to be that he has been a critic of Mueller’s in­quiry. In a CNN in­ter­view last year, Whi­taker spun out a sce­nario where Ses­sions might be re­placed by an act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral who “doesn’t fire Bob Mueller” but starves the in­ves­ti­ga­tion with bud­get cuts.

Was that meant as a job ap­pli­ca­tion? Whi­taker’s brazen at­ti­tude, com­bined with Trump’s view of the Jus­tice Depart­ment as a tool to do his po­lit­i­cal bid­ding rather than as an in­de­pen­dent agency bound to en­force the law with­out fear or fa­vor, puts the coun­try at a pre­car­i­ous mo­ment.

The last time the na­tion was at a sim­i­larly fright­en­ing junc­ture was 1973, when Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon tried to get his at­tor­ney gen­eral to fire the first Water­gate spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor. In what be­came known as the Satur­day Night Mas­sacre, the at­tor­ney gen­eral and his deputy left office rather than obey, and Nixon’s pres­i­dency did not end well.

Now it’s up to Congress and the pub­lic to en­sure that Ses­sions’ firing wasn’t the first step in a slow-mo­tion Wed­nes­day Af­ter­noon Mas­sacre. Mueller must be al­lowed to com­plete his probe and is­sue his re­port with­out in­ter­fer­ence.

An act­ing head of the Jus­tice Depart­ment — par­tic­u­larly a pres­i­den­tial ally who hasn’t been confirmed by the Se­nate — should not be al­lowed to in­ter­fere. Noth­ing less than the rule of law is at stake.

PABLO MARTINEZ MON­SI­VAIS/AP

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions

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