President Donald Trump Wednesday sacked US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, virtually taking operational control of a sensitive probe into foreign interference in the 2016 election and the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
For months, Trump publicly attacked Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the probe in 2017, and blamed his decision for allowing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel. Trump said Sessions will be temporarily replaced by his chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, who is a Republican loyalist. Now, with Whitaker at the helm, Trump has someone leading the Justice Department who has already suggested that Mueller's probe should be reined in. CBS News reported that Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein is no longer leading the Mueller inquiry, and that Whitaker will now assume control.
In a tweet on Wednesday Trump said, "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. He will serve our Country well (sic)." "We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date," he tweeted. Observers opine that Trump's move will have potential implication on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe as Whitaker has been overtly critical of the Mueller's team to investigate beyond allegations Trump's campaign colluded with Russia in 2016 and other ties between the President, his family and aides, and Kremlin.
The wide-ranging investigation - overseen by the Department of Justice - has resulted in a series of criminal charges against several Trump associates. Trump's tweet came less than an hour after his marathon press conference at the White House where he told reporters that he will making announcements about changes in his Cabinet and senior White House and Administrative positions in a week. In a one-page resignation letter to the President, Sessions, a former Alabama senator who was an early supporter of Trump, made it clear that the resignation came "at your request".
"Since the day I was honoured 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 wrote. "Dear Mr President, at your request I am submitting my resignation," he wrote in an undated letter. "Most importantly, in my time as attorney general, we have restored and upheld the rule of law," Sessions added, while thanking the Republican president. According to a White House official, Trump's Chief of Staff John Kelly called Sessions on Wednesday before the President held a press conference.
The president cannot directly fire the special counsel, whose investigation Trump has repeatedly decried as a witch hunt. But Sessions' replacement will have the power to fire Mueller or end the inquiry, US media reports said. Reacting to Trump's move, Democratic party Senate leader Chuck Schumer said, "Clearly, the president has something to hide." "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.