New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump forced out Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday and replaced him with a loyalist who will now take charge of the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference, a defiant move just a day after a midterm election loss.
Sessions delivered his resignation letter to the White House at the request of the president and Trump tapped Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, as acting attorney general. In that capacity, Whitaker assumes control of the Russia investigation, raising questions about the future of the inquiry led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Until now, the investigation has been overseen by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, because Sessions recused himself, citing his active role in Trump’s 2016 campaign. Because Whitaker has expressed opinions about the investigation, Justice Department ethics advisers may be asked to weigh whether he should also recuse himself. If that were to happen, Rosenstein would continue to oversee the special counsel.
Whitaker had no plans to make any immediate public comments about Mueller, an administration official said.
The ouster of Sessions came just a day after midterm elections that handed control of the House to Democrats, dealing a major blow to Trump for the final two years of his term. Republicans preserved their hold on the Senate and increased their majority slightly, making it likelier that Trump will be able to confirm a replacement.
But House Democrats have made clear that they plan to use the subpoena power that will come with their majority to reopen the lower chamber’s own investigation into the Russia matter.
Whitaker’s ascendance to the top of the Justice Department shows how much loyalty means to Trump. The president has long regarded Whitaker as his eyes and ears inside a department that he considers an enemy institution.