President Donald Trump on Wednesday fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions a day after a heated midterm vote, naming a loyalist to replace him in a move that raises questions over the future of the Russia investigation.
The axing capped more than a year of bitter criticism by the president over his legal advisor’s decision to recuse himself from the probe into alleged Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election, paving the way for the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
In announcing the resignation in a tweet that thanked the former Alabama senator “for his service” — Trump right away named as acting attorney general Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker.
The announcement set off immediate alarm bells: Whitaker has been overtly critical of the broad scope granted to Mueller’s team to probe beyond allegations that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia in 2016, into other ties between Trump, his family and aides, and Russia — an investigation the president calls a “witch hunt.”
In an op-ed in August last year he publicly urged Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — who oversees the probe — to “limit the scope of his investigation to the four corners of the order appointing him special counsel.”
acting attorney general, Whitaker now has the power to wrest oversight away from Rosenstein and take charge himself.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer immediately called on Whitaker to recuse himself from the probe as his predecessor had, “given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations” on it.
Senator Bernie Sanders, a former presidential hopeful, went further, tweeting that “any attempt by the president or the Justice Department to interfere with Mueller’s probe would be an obstruction of justice and impeachable offense.”