On the afternoon of Wednesday November 7th, President Trump once again rearranged and substituted the office of attorney general by forcing Jeff Sessions out. He replaced him with a new, more loyal member of the administration, as Sessions was known for speaking out against Trump for the Russian probe investigation involving the 2016 election. The event is seen as negative due to the fact the resignation came from the request of Mr. Trump and Sessions was quoted with saying this exactly “Dear Mr. President, at your request I am submitting my resignation,” and added that “Most importantly, in my time as attorney general we have restored and upheld the rule of law”. The standing attorney general for the time remaining will be Matthew G. Whitaker, Session’s chief of staff.
Whitaker has been more sympathetic to the Mueller case as he felt it would be too far to examine Trump and his family’s personal finances, calling it a “mere witch hunt.” Up until now the investigation was overseen by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, when Sessions should have had jurisdiction but called for a conflict of interest if he was to take over, due to his impact in the 2016 election. Democrats are now calling for Mr. Whitaker to be removed as well due to a conflict of interest but no word has been said yet. Ethics advisors may weigh in on the issue and if found viable for him to disqualify himself, Rosenstein would continue oversight of the investigation. Whitaker has denied any comment to the issue.
The real problem arises because the conflict of interest may result in Whitaker undermining the investigation and raising party tensions even higher, as the split of the House has already gotten people on edge. People understand that nobody is above the law and therefore this firing will most likely come under investigation as well. While Democrats have been eager to criticize Trump’s decision, Republicans are reacting a bit less concerned. Particularly Senator Graham of South Carolina who was cited saying in 2017 that there would be “holy hell to pay” if Trump fired his attorney general, but there has been no backlash from him whatsoever.
What has also been so surprising about the firing is that it came only a day after the midterm elections, which gave us Republican control of the Senate and Democrat control of the House. With the new majority Democrat House, talk has been that they will reopen the chamber’s own investigation into the election. The resignation shouldn’t have come at much surprise due to the fact that Trump had made it apparent that the firing would come soon. Firing before the election would have been bad press, but afterwards presents much less consequence.
The decision also was a first because it ended a partnership that had stretched since the beginning of the term and came off as one of the most bitter standoffs between a president and a senior cabinet official. The whole discourse started with Mr. Sessions interaction with Russian officials during the election of 2016. He said that the meetings were evil in no way, but he knew he paced his reactions and thought more about denying any contact with the Russians. These statements are what drew Mr. Trump to call him “VERY weak” and “DISGRACEFUL”. During a separate interview he also had this to say:
“How do you take a job and then recuse yourself?” Mr. Trump said in the Oval Office interview. “If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president.”
The first instance of true public retort coming from Mr. Sessions didn’t come until August when Mr. Trump said that Sessions “never took control of the Justice Department” and Sessions replied with a comment clearly aimed at President Trump saying, “the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.” This most directly in reference to Mr. Trump’s opinions against the investigation.
With Rosenstein conducting the investigation it would be assumed that he should be granted the attorney general position, but he too has suffered the wrath of Trump. Recently Trump chimed in on his view of the investigation and the firing by saying “I could’ve ended it anytime I wanted,” but he says “I didn’t. There was no collusion. There was no anything.” Trump puts on a brave face but there’s no end in sight for the investigation at this point. One thing that can be clearly taken away from the change in personal is that loyalty means everything in the Trump administration which can be seen in the firing of Sessions and James Comey earlier in the year. Despite everything that Sessions helped Trump pass and put into place, he couldn’t be exempt from his scorn over the Russian investigation.