The US Attorney General, Mr. Jeff Sessions resigned on Wednesday at the President, Mr. Donald Trump's request, ending the tenure of a beleaguered loyalist whose relationship with the President was ruined when Sessions recused himself from control of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
In a letter to Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions wrote that he had been 'honored to serve as Attorney General' and had 'worked to implement the law enforcement agenda based on the rule of law that formed a central part of your campaign for the presidency.' Mr. Trump tweeted that Mr. Sessions would be replaced on an acting basis by Mr. Matthew Whitaker, who had been serving as Sessions' chief of staff.
'We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well!' Mr. Trump tweeted. 'A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date.'
A Justice Department official said Mr. Whitaker would assume authority over the special counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election - though his role will be subject to the normal review process for conflicts. Because Mr. Sessions was recused, the special counsel probe had been overseen by Deputy Attorney General, Mr. Rod Rosenstein, who also has had strained relations with Mr. Trump, but is considered safe in his position for the moment. Mr. Rosenstein went to the White House on Wednesday afternoon for what an official said was a pre-scheduled meeting.
Though Mr. Sessions' removal was long expected, the installation of Mr. Whitaker sparked fears that the President might be trying to exert control over the special counsel investigation led by Mr. Robert Mueller III.
A legal commentator earlier, Mr. Whitaker had mused publicly about how a Mr. Sessions replacement might reduce Mr. Mueller's budget 'so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.' He also wrote that Mr. Mueller had 'come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing,' after CNN reported that the special counsel could be looking into Mr. Trump and his associates' financial ties to Russia. Mr. Trump has told advisers that Mr. Whitaker is loyal and would not have recused himself from the investigation, current and former White House officials said.