Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned Wednesday from his post at the Justice Department at the request of President Donald Trump and is to be replaced by Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff.
The move follows months-long criticism by the President of his attorney general due to Sessions’ recusal from the special counsel’s investigation into Russian election interference and makes good on Trump’s recent comments that his attorney general would be dismissed after the midterm elections.
In his resignation letter, Sessions said, “I came to work at the Department of Justice every day determined to do my duty and serve my country. I have done so to the best of my ability, working to support the fundamental legal processes that are the foundation of justice.”
President Trump thanked Sessions for his service over Twitter and wished him “well,” while at the same time announcing that Whitaker would take his place as acting attorney general. The two men had been at odds for some time, but the tensions between them seemed to reach a boiling point a few months ago when Trump accused his attorney general of failing to reign in “corruption” at the Justice Department.
Shortly after that, in September, President Trump again blasted Sessions, saying he didn’t “have an attorney general” and complained about his efforts on border security.
The appointment of Whitaker, who has been a vocal critic of the Russia investigation, has been perceived by critics as an effort by Trump to impede the probe, which he has often deemed “a witch hunt.” It was not immediately clear how the move will impact Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has also been the target of Trump’s criticism and who is currently overseeing Robert Mueller’s investigation.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer both called on Whitaker to recuse himself from the Mueller probe, citing “his record of threats to undermine & weaken the Russia investigation.”