On Tuesday afternoon, Donald Trump removed attorney general Jefferson Sessions on the basis of a “resignation letter” that carries no date and makes clear it was done “at your request.” Trump has clearly had this little missive on hand for some time, but didn’t even wait 24 hours after the election. Standard policy would be the deputy attorney general to step in as acting attorney general—which would put Rod Rosenstein in charge. But that’s not what is happening.
Instead, Matthew Whitaker, a prominent and vocal critic of Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation, is in position. Since Rosenstein holds his control over the investigation not because of his position as deputy, but because he was acting in Sessions’s place because of the former AG’s recusal, Whitaker does not even need to fire Rosenstein to take control of the Russia investigation. Whitaker has control of the Russia investigation.
Trump’s moving against Sessions immediately following the election was expected. His pulling in a guy who has spent months openly attacking Robert Mueller, writing articles about the investigation, and explaining how he would defund and close the investigation was not. Putting Whitaker in place makes it clear that Trump is not going to even have the pretense of an investigation. This is a guy who has devoted buckets of ink to explaining how to shut down Mueller. He’s going to shut down Mueller. This … this is the new attorney general.
He has also downplayed the idea that anything illegal was done at the Trump Tower meeting, saying, “You would always take the meeting.”
As expected, Republican senators who once promised that firing Sessions would be “over the line” and that there would be “holy hell to pay” have either remained completely silent or welcomed Trump’s new hatchetman with open arms. Democrats are still in the minority until January, but the soon-to-be chair of the House Oversight Committee chair Elijah Cummings is trying to put a brake on what looks like a train racing toward a Wednesday night massacre.