You would think Trump might have mentioned this at today’s seven-hour-long presidential press conference. Alternate headline: “Rod Rosenstein no longer in charge of Mueller investigation.”
….We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2018
Was Sessions pushed or did he jump, frustrated after 18 months as POTUS’s punching bag? The answer, per ABC, is that he jumped — after Trump threatened to push him.
Jeff Sessions is resigning as attorney general. At the request of @POTUS
— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) November 7, 2018
Who’s Matthew Whitaker, you ask? Why, the author of this interesting op-ed from last year titled, “Mueller’s investigation of Trump is going too far.”
Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing.
According to a CNN article, Mueller’s investigators could be looking into financial records relating to the Trump Organization that are unrelated to the 2016 election. According to these reports, “sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 election.” The piece goes on to cite law enforcement sources who say non-Russia-related leads that “involve Trump associates” are being referred to the special counsel “to encourage subjects of the investigation to cooperate.”…
It is time for Rosenstein, who is the acting attorney general for the purposes of this investigation, to order Mueller to limit the scope of his investigation to the four corners of the order appointing him special counsel.
A former U.S. Attorney, Whitaker ended up becoming Sessions’s chief of staff at the DOJ after that op-ed was published. Now suddenly he’s in a position to give Mueller the order that he demanded Rosenstein give him last year. The NYT and WaPo noted within the past few months that he and Trump had hit it off and that POTUS was eyeing him as a potential solution, if only short-term, to his Sessions problem. Now that he’s assured of Republican gains in the Senate, he doesn’t really have a “Sessions problem” anymore; he can get a handpicked successor confirmed, probably, an outcome that wouldn’t have been possible if the blue wave really had crashed into the battlegrounds last night.
Of course, Democrats have new leverage after last night too. Jeff Sessions’s testimony before the House next year will be amazing. And if Whitaker does ride herd on Mueller, don’t be surprised if they move to impeach him. Impeachment will fail in the Senate but the point for Dems wouldn’t be to remove him, just to delegitimize him and his oversight of the Russiagate probe.
We didn’t have to wait long for Phase Two of the Trump era to begin. Stand by for reaction.
Update: Via WaPo, here’s the new acting AG in his own words in an appearance on CNN in July 2017. I don’t think the president would fire Mueller, he notes — but he might try to defund his investigation. Hmmmmmm.
Update: Is Whitaker the new head of the Russiagate probe? The Times story I linked above addressed a scenario in which Rosenstein, not Sessions, might be fired and Whitaker would be installed as acting deputy AG. In that case, noted the Times, “complex” Justice Department rules would make Solicitor General Noel Francisco the new man in charge of the Russiagate investigation.
As the acting deputy attorney general, Mr. Whitaker would oversee the nation’s federal prosecutors, including the investigations of Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, the Trump Organization and the business run by the father of Mr. Kushner.
The Russia investigation would be overseen by the solicitor general, Noel J. Francisco. But Mr. Whitaker could have visibility into the special counsel’s work. Officials in the deputy attorney general’s office have met regularly with Mr. Mueller’s team.
Whitaker is now the top dog in the department, not the deputy, albeit on an interim basis. Doesn’t that mean he leapfrogs everyone, including Francisco, to be Mueller’s new boss?
Update: Here’s Sessions’s resignation letter, which notes at the start that it’s at Trump’s request. His old Senate seat in Alabama will be up in two years. Does he want it back? Would Alabamians let him have it back? Would Trump?
BREAKING: Sessions resigns pic.twitter.com/0YzFKui8F6
— Paula Reid (@PaulaReidCBS) November 7, 2018
Update: Yep, Whitaker’s in charge now.
NEW: Per @PeteWilliamsNBC — Rod Rosenstein will cease oversight of Mueller investigation. Acting AG expected to step in — but can only fire Special Counsel "for cause"
— Reggie Cecchini (@Cecchini_DC) November 7, 2018
He’ll be testifying before the House bright and early in January too, no doubt.
Update: An interesting point.
there's a strong practical argument for Mueller moving aggressively to force the issue sooner rather than later on indictments, if he has the legal basis for them
not everything is a "slow burn" — the WH strategy may be for less of a direct "massacre" and more of a "slow bleed"
— Brandt (@UrbanAchievr) November 7, 2018
Mueller has every reason to move quickly now. Given today’s news and the outcome in the Senate, an emboldened Trump might try to fire him at any minute. Even if he doesn’t, he and Whitaker might follow the strategy Whitaker described in the clip above by choking off his funding. The best defense for Mueller is a good offense: Show what he has, at least with respect to Roger Stone and Don Jr, and remind the public that his investigation is producing indictments. The more wrongdoing a grand jury finds, the harder it is politically for Trump to move against him.
Update: Another interesting point.
Thought bubble: since Trump pretty much crapped all over all those "losers" in the house why wouldn't they draft a bill in the lame duck to protect the Mueller investigation. The Senate would likely pass that kind of bill all you'd need is the house to pass a bill.
— Mike Weisberg (@Mikeweisberg) November 7, 2018
There’s nothing holding Paul Ryan and the 30+ Republican losers from last night from paying back POTUS for blaming them by joining with Pelosi to pass a “protect Mueller” bill in the lame duck. It would be a violation of the Hastert Rule, yes, but why would Ryan care about that at this point? I don’t think the Senate would pass it but it would add to the political pressure on Trump not to fire Mueller by making opposition to the move formally bipartisan.
One effect of picking a Sessions replacement is we're going to find out what version of Mitt Romney is coming to DC very quickly
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) November 7, 2018
Update: Yesterday this tweet might have been ignored. Who cares what Jerry Nadler? Today, though, he’s the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Americans must have answers immediately as to the reasoning behind @realDonaldTrump removing Jeff Sessions from @TheJusticeDept. Why is the President making this change and who has authority over Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation? We will be holding people accountable. https://t.co/weykMuiCxm
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) November 7, 2018
Update: Matthew Whitaker has a verified Twitter account, by the way. Here’s something that caught his interest in August 2017.
Update: Speculation, but juicy. Is Kansas’s loss the DOJ’s gain? Can Kobach get confirmed even with a red Senate?
I asked a political operative with the White House's ear if Kobach for AG is likely. His response: "Yes."
— Joe Bernstein (@Bernstein) November 7, 2018
Update: The junior senator from Utah warns the president not to do anything rash.
I want to thank Jeff Sessions for his service to our country as Attorney General. Under Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, it is imperative that the important work of the Justice Department continues, and that the Mueller investigation proceeds to its conclusion unimpeded.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) November 7, 2018