Trump Wastes No Time In Forcing Attorney General Jeff Sessions Out
Less Than 24 Hours After The Midterms, President Launches New Attack On The Mueller Investigation
We were going to start today anyway talking about how one of Trump’s very first Tweets after Election Day was about the “Witch Hunt”, because it’s something he hasn’t Tweeted about in nearly 2 months, based on our tracking. (Guess he didn’t think it was a big “winner” for Republican candidates).
But before we got around to that, Trump went a step further: forcing the resignation of his Attorney General, and his earliest supporter in the Senate, Jeff Sessions. Trump never got over the fact that Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation due to work he did on the Trump campaign and meetings he had with the Russian Ambassador during that time. Instead he handed off the investigation to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Sessions announced his departure in a letter, which begins: “At your request, I am submitting my resignation”.
Here’s the full letter (click on it for a larger version):
There’s an important technicality in the fact that Sessions resigned and was not fired. Because had he been fired, Rosenstein would’ve automatically become acting Attorney General. Because he “resigned”, the Federal Vacancies Reform Act allows Trump to name whomever he wants as a temporary replacement. That replacement can stay in the job for 210 days, or longer, depending on when a permanent replacement is named and approved by the Senate. The President could also try to do a “recess appointment” when the Senate is off. However, recently the Senate has never fully gone into recess for the purpose of preventing the President from doing this kind of thing. That typically involves a designated Senator showing up for a short time every day even when nobody else is around.
Trump’s chosen former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, and Sessions’ current Chief of Staff, Matthew Whitaker, as acting AG. Though Whitaker’s a pretty low-profile character, there’s no mystery to his views on the Mueller investigation, in fact quite the contrary. He, like the President, has referred to it as a “witch hunt”, and back when he was a CNN legal commentator suggested a way to stifle the investigation without firing Mueller: just starve him of money so he would not be able to get anything done.
Here’s Whitaker on Don Lemon’s CNN show in 2017 (click on the photo to watch):
The New York Times profiled Whitaker in September, saying the White House refers to him as their “eyes and ears” within the Justice Department.
As we’ve mentioned for months, there’s already a bill passed out of committee in the Senate protecting Mueller from being fired. It’d probably pass the Senate with bipartisan support should Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ever put it up for a vote. So far, McConnell hasn’t moved on it, saying it’s “unnecessary” in his view. Is taking at least that step becoming more necessary now? (The bill still probably wouldn’t pass in the House, that is until January when Democrats take over.) Another option we’ve mentioned before involves the House threatening to hire Mueller if Trump fires him, since they can conduct their own investigations and have the power of subpoena, and come January will be controlled by Democrats.
Prior to the Sessions announcement, Trump said he’d go into a “warlike posture” should Democrats, now that they’ve won the House, start investigating him. And there is a question of what would happen should Trump or his associates (or family) not comply with subpoenas from Congress. University of Texas Law Professor Steve Vladeck has an eye-opening piece about this in which he talks about how Congress actually used to operate a jail for people held in contempt. But nowadays, they typically refer Contempt of Congress cases to the Justice Department. But what if the Attorney General isn’t inclined to take action on these referrals?
Trump recently got mad at now-former AG Sessions again, because he came out with felony indictments against two Republican Congressmen just ahead of the midterms. But both New York’s Chris Collins (insider trading) and California’s Duncan Hunter (misappropriating campaign funds for personal use/wire fraud), appear to have won reelection.
Expect more White House personnel shakeups posthaste…