You would think Trump might have mentioned this at today’s seven-hour-long presidential press conference. Alternate headline: “Rod Rosenstein no longer in charge of Mueller investigation.”
….We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2018
Was Sessions pushed or did he jump, frustrated after 18 months as POTUS’s punching bag? The answer, per ABC, is that he jumped — after Trump threatened to push him.
Jeff Sessions is resigning as attorney general. At the request of @POTUS
— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) November 7, 2018
Who’s Matthew Whitaker, you ask? Why, the author of this interesting op-ed from last year titled, “Mueller’s investigation of Trump is going too far.”
Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing.
According to a CNN article, Mueller’s investigators could be looking into financial records relating to the Trump Organization that are unrelated to the 2016 election. According to these reports, “sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 election.” The piece goes on to cite law enforcement sources who say non-Russia-related leads that “involve Trump associates” are being referred to the special counsel “to encourage subjects of the investigation to cooperate.”…
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.
A former U.S. Attorney, Whitaker ended up becoming Sessions’s chief of staff at the DOJ after that op-ed was published. Now suddenly he’s in a position to give Mueller the order that he demanded Rosenstein give him last year. The NYT and WaPo noted within the past few months that he and Trump had hit it off and that POTUS was eyeing him as a potential solution, if only short-term, to his Sessions problem. Now that he’s assured of Republican gains in the Senate, he doesn’t really have a “Sessions problem” anymore; he can get a handpicked successor confirmed, probably, an outcome that wouldn’t have been possible if the blue wave really had crashed into the battlegrounds last night.
Of course, Democrats have new leverage after last night too. Jeff Sessions’s testimony before the House next year will be amazing. And if Whitaker does ride herd on Mueller, don’t be surprised if they move to impeach him. Impeachment will fail in the Senate but the point for Dems wouldn’t be to remove him, just to delegitimize him and his oversight of the Russiagate probe.
We didn’t have to wait long for Phase Two of the Trump era to begin. Stand by for reaction.
Update: Via WaPo, here’s the new acting AG in his own words in an appearance on CNN in July 2017. I don’t think the president would fire Mueller, he notes — but he might try to defund his investigation. Hmmmmmm.
Update: Is Whitaker the new head of the Russiagate probe? The Times story I linked above addressed a scenario in which Rosenstein, not Sessions, might be fired and Whitaker would be installed as acting deputy AG. In that case, noted the Times, “complex” Justice Department rules would make Solicitor General Noel Francisco the new man in charge of the Russiagate investigation.
As the acting deputy attorney general, Mr. Whitaker would oversee the nation’s federal prosecutors, including the investigations of Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, the Trump Organization and the business run by the father of Mr. Kushner.
The Russia investigation would be overseen by the solicitor general, Noel J. Francisco. But Mr. Whitaker could have visibility into the special counsel’s work. Officials in the deputy attorney general’s office have met regularly with Mr. Mueller’s team.
Whitaker is now the top dog in the department, not the deputy, albeit on an interim basis. Doesn’t that mean he leapfrogs everyone, including Francisco, to be Mueller’s new boss?
Update: Here’s Sessions’s resignation letter, which notes at the start that it’s at Trump’s request. His old Senate seat in Alabama will be up in two years. Does he want it back? Would Alabamians let him have it back? Would Trump?
BREAKING: Sessions resigns pic.twitter.com/0YzFKui8F6
— Paula Reid (@PaulaReidCBS) November 7, 2018
Update: Yep, Whitaker’s in charge now.
NEW: Per @PeteWilliamsNBC — Rod Rosenstein will cease oversight of Mueller investigation. Acting AG expected to step in — but can only fire Special Counsel “for cause”
— Reggie Cecchini (@Cecchini_DC) November 7, 2018
He’ll be testifying before the House bright and early in January too, no doubt.