U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned from his post late Wednesday, purportedly under pressure from President Donald Trump.
Session’s departure, writes USA Today, was expected for weeks. Trump attacked the former attorney general time and time again over Twitter and on television. The pair’s contentious relationship stems from Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from an FBI probe.
The probe—examining the possibility of collusion between President Trump’s electoral campaign and Russia—has been repeatedly derided by the commander-in-chief as a ‘witch hunt.’
And he was especially angry that Sessions didn’t use his power as attorney general to stop its progression.
Even though Sessions has been a long-time proponent of a Trump presidency, the White House has kept its distance from the long-time Alabama senator. In September, Trump went so far as to suggest that he didn’t even have an attorney general.
“I don’t have an attorney general. It’s very sad,” Trump said in an interview. I’m not happy at the border, I’m not happy with numerous things, not just this.”
A month earlier, he questioned why Sessions wasn’t “looking into” Hillary Clinton’s alleged crimes, too.
“So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys [sic] crimes U& Russia relations?” Trump tweeted.
Many have speculated that the attorney general’s ouster serves a clear purpose: the installation of a prosecutor willing to take on Special Counsel Robert Mueller and shut down the Russia probe once and for all.
Taking Sessions’ place—at least temporarily—is Matthew G. Whitaker, who served under Sessions as his chief of staff. Whitaker, notes the New York Times, has a history that may settle Trump’s apprehension. He’s criticized the Mueller probe in the past and said it would be ridiculous if Mueller peruses the president’s finances.
“This would raise serious concerns that the special counsel’s investigation was a mere witch hunt,” Whitaker wrote in a column for CNN.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has pointed to Whitaker’s comments as reason for the freshly-appointed acting attorney general to recuse himself, too.
“Given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation, Mr. Whitaker should recuse himself from its oversight for the duration of his time as acting attorney general,” Schumer said in a statement.
Whitaker, for his part, has said he’s committed to upholding the office’s integrity; he’s also called Sessions a “man of integrity.”
“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 Wednesday.
Some Democrats have promised an investigation to determine whether Sessions was ousted in a bid to abolish Mueller’s authority.
“The American people understand that no person is above the law and have demanded accountability from their government,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). “The firing of Jeff Sessions will be investigated and people will be held accountable. This must begin immediately, and if not, then a Democratic Congress will make this a priority in January.”