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Donald Trump fires Attorney-General Jeff Sessions amid fear over Mueller probe; 'worse than Watergate', say opponents

New York: Within 24 hours of Democrats seizing control of the US House of Representatives in the 6 November midterm elections, US president Donald Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions - the country's chief law enforcement officer who has endured more than a year of blistering personal attacks over his recusal from the Russia investigation - and instead appointed hardline (lackey) Republican Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general. Politicos in Washington reacted with shock at the news: "This doesn't pass the smell test! This is worse than Watergate!", exclaimed Tom Perez, a top Democrat. "Thankfully, we control the House now".

File picture of Jeff Sessions. AP

File picture of Jeff Sessions. AP

"Dear Mr President, At your request, I am submitting my resignation", reads the first line of Sessions' letter to Trump Wednesday afternoon. Trump's opponents are saying the US president has already crossed a red line. There is no ambiguity that Trump is moving as rapidly as possible to shut down the Mueller probe.

Reactions to Trump's tweet announcing the new appointment ranged from the cartoonish to the bizarre. This one on the reply thread sums up, if a bit crudely, the fears that may have led to Trump's decision. "We thank Donald J. Trump for his self-service and wish him jail. A permanent replacement will be elected at a later date."

With Democrats threatening investigations against Trump within hours of winning the House, there are real risks that some of this could touch his family. "Trump, his daughter and son-in-law are not expendable...he will protect himself at the expense of everyone else. That's what he's doing here by firing Sessions", said MSNBC host Chris Mathews. Sessions was the first prominent Republican to endorse Trump's outsider bid for presidency back in 2016 but Trump could never get over Sessions' recusal from the Russia probe and never tired of berating him in public over the last year.

Sessions knew this was coming, his resignation letter is undated and he was seen showing his grandchildren around the White House briefing room last week.

"I hate to sound sinister but there may be a quid pro quo here. You do this for me and I'll do this for you. That's most likely the deal that got Whitaker the acting attorney general job", is how legal experts are reacting to Trump's choice for Sessions' replacement.

Whitaker will now be de-facto boss of Robert Mueller, who is running the investigation into Russia's alleged meddling in the Donald Trump campaign. Whitaker has long railed against the Mueller probe, saying in a CNN opinion piece that it's going "too far".

Sessions' resignation was the culmination of a toxic relationship that frayed just weeks into the attorney general's tumultuous tenure, when he stepped aside from the investigation into potential coordination between the president's campaign and Russia.

Trump blamed the decision for opening the door to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who took over the Russia investigation and began examining whether Trump's hectoring of Sessions was part of a broader effort to obstruct justice and stymie the probe.

The decision infuriated Trump, who repeatedly lamented that he would have never selected Sessions if he had known the attorney general would recuse. The recusal left the investigation in the hands of Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel two months later after Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey.
The rift lingered for the duration of Sessions' tenure, and the attorney general, despite praising the president's agenda and hewing to his priorities, never managed to return to Trump's good graces.

Sessions endured most of the name-calling in silence, though he did issue two public statements defending the department, including one in which he said he would serve "with integrity and honor" for as long as he was in the job.

The deteriorating relationship became a soap opera stalemate for the administration. Trump belittled Sessions but, perhaps following the advice of aides, held off on firing him. The attorney general, for his part, proved determined to remain in the position until dismissed. A logjam broke when Republican senators who had publicly backed Sessions began signaling a willingness to consider a new attorney general.

In attacks delivered on Twitter, in person and in interviews, Trump called Sessions weak and beleaguered, complained that he wasn't more aggressively pursuing allegations of corruption against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and called it "disgraceful" that Sessions wasn't more serious in scrutinizing the origins of the Russia investigation for possible law enforcement bias — even though the attorney general did ask the Justice Department's inspector general to look into those claims.

Asked whether Whitaker would assume control over Mueller's investigation, Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Flores said Whitaker would be "in charge of all matters under the purview of the Department of Justice." The Justice Department did not announce a departure for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller more than a year and a half ago and has closely overseen his work since then.

Trump held a combative, hour long press conference which was officially about his "great midterm results" but instead turned out to be a sour, one hour circus about how "all bets are off the table" if Democrats begin investigations. "If they do it, I do it better then them", Trump said repeatedly.

Sessions' dramatic departure offers a sample of how chaotic Washington is going to be for the next two years. It's just the beginning of an exodus from the Trump cabinet.


Updated Date: Nov 08, 2018 07:57 AM

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