A couple of months ago, Donald Trump sat down with The Hill and could barely contain his contempt for Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “I don’t have an attorney general,” the president said at the time. “It’s very sad.”
There’s no great mystery as to why. Trump has been quite explicit in his belief that he expects his attorney general to be an extension of the White House political agenda. It’s why the president was apoplectic about Sessions recusing himself from the investigation into the Russia scandal – Trump expected the A.G. to obstruct the probe in politically convenient ways – and it’s also why we saw the president recently suggest Sessions should go easy on two allegedly corrupt Republican members of Congress because it might interfere with the GOP’s electoral plans.
It quickly became obvious that it was a matter of “when” not “if,” the Alabama Republican would exit the stage. This afternoon, Trump and Sessions parted ways.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned Wednesday at President Donald Trump’s request. The announcement – made by Trump on Twitter – came the day after the midterm elections. […]
Given the bad blood, Sessions’ departure after the midterms was no surprise. Trump was asked about Sessions’ future at a lengthy press conference Wednesday afternoon. At the time, he declined to comment on whether Sessions would be leaving the administration, although Sessions resignation letter had been submitted earlier in the day.
A copy of Sessions’ resignation letter is online here (pdf). The first sentence reads, “At your request, I am submitting my resignation.”
Sessions is the sixth member of Trump’s cabinet to resign, following EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, HHS Secretary Tom Price, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, VA Secretary David Shulkin, and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. (Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly also gave up his post, though he became White House chief of staff.)
None of those other members, however, drew Trump’s ire the way Sessions did. Indeed, the attorney general has been at the center of multiple presidential tantrums, including a May 2017 incident in which the president called his attorney general an “idiot” and accused him of “disloyalty.”
What’s more, those other cabinet resignations won’t have nearly the impact of Sessions’ departure.
While Sessions has not been a good attorney general, he has allowed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russia scandal to proceed without political interference. There is a very real concern that Sessions’ departure may be the first domino in a series of legally provocative steps in which Trump interferes – or at least tries to interfere – with the integrity of the system.
Complicating matters, Sessions’ own chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, will serve as acting attorney general, and may even become Trump’s nominee as Sessions’ permanent replacement.
And who’s Matthew Whitaker? He happens to be a rather aggressive critic of the Mueller investigation.
While all of the other relevant angles matter – the Trump-vs-Sessions drama, the revolving door in the White House cabinet, the president’s confusion about what an attorney general does, etc. – it’s the questions about what happens next that matter most.
Expect Rachel to have more along these lines in about five hours.