President Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday, capping a long-running feud between the two men that first unraveled after Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation.
The President announced he will nominate Sessions’ own chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, as his acting replacement.
“We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date,” Trump tweeted.
Sessions’ departure as the nation’s top law enforcement official comes after months of public spats with the President and casts doubt over the future of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
Citing a need to avoid any public perception of prejudice, Sessions recused himself in March 2017 from overseeing any type of federal investigation into the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election amid revelations he had twice met with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. while serving as a senior adviser on Trump’s campaign.
Two months later, Mueller was appointed to oversee the Russia investigation in the wake of Trump firing FBI Director James Comey.
Ever since, Trump has trashed Sessions for not seizing control of Mueller’s probe, which the President frequently blasts as a baseless “witch hunt,” even though it has secured indictments and guilty pleas from nearly 40 Trump associates and Russians.
In an interview with Fox News on Aug. 22, Trump took aim at what he perceives as Sessions’ lack of personal loyalty.
“I put in an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions. Never took control of the Justice Department,” Trump said. “”And it’s, it’s sort of an incredible thing.”
Sessions pushed back, asserting his loyalty lies with justice, not with the President.
“While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influence by political considerations,” Sessions said in a statement. “I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action. However, no nations has a more talented, more dedicated group of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors than the United States.”
Sessions’ axing paves way for contentious confirmation hearings in the Senate on Trump’s attorney general nominee.
Democrats have made clear they won’t vote to confirm any replacement for Sessions, voicing concern a new attorney general would submit to Trump’s loyalty demand and undermine or altogether end Mueller’s investigation.
Some Republicans, including Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), have expressed similar unease about a new nominee, and with the GOP’s slim one-vote majority, Trump’s pick is all but certain to be blocked.