And so it begins … Attorney General Sessions resigns at Trump’s request (Updated)

Well that didn’t take long … America is still counting the votes from Tuesday’s election but “Dear Leader” has begun the “slow-motion Saturday night massacre” at the Department of Justice. Trump is just daring the Special Counsel and the new Democratic Congress to hold him accountable for his abuses of power and obstruction of justice.

The Washington Post reports, Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigns at Trump’s request (he tried to resign twice before, but was talked out of it):

[Confederate Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III] resigned on Wednesday at President Trump’s request, ending the tenure of a loyalist Trump had soured on shortly after Sessions took office in 2017 because the former senator from Alabama had recused himself from oversight of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

In a letter to Trump, Sessions wrote he had been “honored to serve as Attorney General” and had “worked to implement the law enforcement agenda based on the rule of law that formed a central part of your campaign for the presidency.” Trump tweeted that Sessions would be replaced on an acting basis by Matthew G. Whitaker, who had been serving as Sessions’s chief of staff.

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

Department veterans have expressed concerns that Trump’s repeated public attacks on Sessions, the Justice Department and the FBI could cause lasting damage to federal law enforcement.

* * *

Trump has never forgiven Sessions for [his recusal fromthe Russia investigation], which he regarded as an act of disloyalty that denied him the protection he thought he deserved from his attorney general. “I don’t have an attorney general,” he said in September.

Privately, Trump has derided Sessions as “Mr. Magoo,” a cartoon character who is elderly, myopic and bumbling, according to people with whom he has spoken.

Trump also had repeatedly threatened or demanded Sessions’s ouster behind closed doors, only to be convinced by aides that removing him could provoke a political crisis within the Republican Party, where many conservatives stayed loyal to the former senator. In recent months, however, some of those allies had signaled a willingness to tolerate Sessions’s removal after the midterm election.

Democrats have moved gingerly around Sessions — fearful that if he were driven from office, his replacement could curtail the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

* * *

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking into Trump’s statements seeking to fire Sessions or force his resignation in an effort to determine whether those acts are part of a pattern of attempted obstruction of justice, according to people close to the investigation.

Earlier this year, Mueller’s team questioned witnesses about Trump’s private comments and state of mind in late July and early August of last year, around the time he belittled his “beleaguered” attorney general on Twitter, these people said. The questions sought to determine whether the president’s goal was to oust Sessions so he could replace him with someone who would take control of the investigation, these people said.

The Mueller inquiry is overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who also has had strained relations with Trump, but is considered safe in his position for the moment.

Based upon what? Trump has considered firing Rod Rosenstein several times as well, most recently after the New York Times reported that he had discussed secretly taping the president and removing him from office by the 25th Amendment. Rod Rosenstein Suggested Secretly Recording Trump and Discussed 25th Amendment.

After a tête-à-tête with the president on Air Force One (was a loyalty pledge exacted from Rosenstein?), Trump backed off, for now. Trump Says He Had ‘Great’ Meeting With Rosenstein on Air Force One. The mercurial Trump could always change his mind at any time, for any reason.

Sleep with one eye open, Rod. You’re next, and you know it.

UPDATE: Whoomp! There it is: Matthew G. Whitaker, Sessions’s chief of staff, will serve as acting attorney general. Who is Matthew Whitaker, the new acting attorney general?

President Trump announced Wednesday that Jeff Sessions had resigned as attorney general and will be replaced by Matthew Whitaker, who had been Sessions’ chief of staff at the Justice Department. Whitaker will also replace Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“We are pleased to announce that Matthew G. Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “He will serve our Country well.”

Mr. Trump added that a “permanent replacement” for Sessions “will be nominated at a later date.” Sessions resigned at Mr. Trump’s request.

Whitaker was hired by Sessions to be his chief of staff in September 2017. The month before, he wrote an opinion article for CNN criticizing Mueller. “It is time for Rosenstein, who is the acting attorney general for the purposes of this investigation, to order Mueller to limit the scope of his investigation to the four corners of the order appointing him special counsel.”

In 2016, Whitaker wrote an article for USA Today arguing that the Justice Department should indict Hillary Clinton. 

Last month, Mr. Trump was asked about Sessions’ future. The president dodged that question, but he did single out Whitaker for praise.

“Well, I’d never talk about that, but I can tell you Matt Whitaker is a great guy,” he said.

And so it begins … Trump has his consigliere, his Roy Cohn, at the Department of Justice. The rule of law is being undermined before our very eyes.

UPDATE: More Machiavellian moves explained by Philip Bump of The Post. Trump just seized the reins on the Mueller probe:

It is unclear how close the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is to being completed, much less the arm of that probe run by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III which is looking at any overlap with Trump’s campaign. There are signs it is nearing completion — but that could mean we are on the brink of substantial revelations or indictments. For example, in recent weeks, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. has reportedly told friends he expects to face an indictment. (Experts who spoke with The Post speculated this would explain why Mueller hasn’t yet interviewed Trump Jr.)

In other words, there may still be good reason for Trump to want to curtail Mueller’s work.

* * *

As our Aaron Blake noted, Whitaker offered his opinion about the Mueller probe shortly before being hired by Sessions: Broadly echoing Trump’s rhetoric about the need to wind down the probe and, perhaps more importantly, defending Trump Jr.’s involvement in a meeting with a Kremlin-linked attorney at Trump Tower in June 2016.

So what could a new Justice Department head hostile to the investigation do? A lot.

* * *

If Mueller wants to indict Trump Jr., he has to ask the Justice Department official overseeing the probe. NBC reports Rosenstein has already agreed to transfer his oversight to Whitaker, meaning Whitaker is now the one who would answer Mueller’s question.

If Whitaker is true to what he wrote before joining the government, he will simply say “no” — and such an indictment would come to a halt.

Marcy Wheeler, a journalist who has been tracking the legal issues involving the Mueller probe, notes that existing, sealed indictments may be out of reach for any Sessions replacement.

Let’s hope so.





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