Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsElection fallout: What to watch for now The Hill’s Morning Report — Judgment Day: New data suggest big Dem gains in House, governors’ races Election Countdown: Trump frames midterm as referendum on presidency | Senate seats most likely to flip | Huge turnout raises Dem hopes | Controversy over Trump ad | Weather forecast has storm headed to key states | DOJ to monitor voting in 19 states MORE has resigned as the top Justice Department official at President TrumpDonald John TrumpMidterms: The winners and losers GOP Rep. Mike Bost wins reelection in Illinois Sisolak becomes first Dem to win Nevada governor race since 1994 MORE’s request, a development that is likely to spark a firestorm of criticism following the midterm elections.
The decision punctuates months of criticism by President Trump of his top law enforcement officer over his recusal from the ongoing Russia investigation. And it confirms widespread speculation that Trump would move to fire Sessions sometime after the midterms.
Sessions agreed to resign at Trump’s request, according to a copy of his resignation letter obtained by The Hill.
“I came to work at the Department of Justice every day determined to do my duty and serve my country,” Sessions wrote. “I have done so to the best of my ability, working to support the fundamental legal processes that are the foundation of justice.”
Trump made the announcement over Twitter, thanking Sessions for his service and wishing him “well.” The president revealed that Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’s chief of staff, would take over as acting attorney general and said a permanent replacement would be nominated “at a later date.”
Over the past year, Sessions became a frequent punching back for Trump as he fumed over special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into potential collusion between his campaign and Moscow. Trump has repeatedly lashed out at his attorney general over his recusal from the investigation and other alleged failures.
The strained relationship appeared to reach a pivotal point in August when Trump in a Fox News interview faulted Sessions for failing to take control of “corruption” at the Justice Department and suggested he had only brought him into the administration because he demonstrated “loyalty” during the presidential campaign.
The episode prompted a rare, public rebuke from Sessions, who in a statement asserted he would not be “improperly influenced” by political pressures.
Since then, their bond has continued to falter. Trump told Hill.TV in September that he didn’t “have an attorney general” and suggested he was unhappy with Sessions’s efforts on border security and other matters.
The president’s Republican allies, including Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate GOP beats expectations with expanded majority Graham lauds GOP Senate results: ‘Conservative judicial train is going to keep running!’ It’s very difficult to change the Constitution — on purpose MORE (S.C.), have signaled it would be appropriate for Trump to remove Sessions following the midterms. But the decision could aggravate some Republicans in the Senate and trigger criticism among Democrats and others who view it as an effort to interfere with the Mueller investigation.
Despite Republicans maintaining control of the Senate, Trump’s nominee is likely to face a difficult confirmation battle. It is unclear, at this point, who the president may appoint to replace Sessions.
The move is likely to be viewed by some critics as an effort by Trump to impede the Mueller investigation, which is currently being overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinElection fallout: What to watch for now The Hill’s Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Trump, Obama battle for the Senate The Hill’s Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Final stretch to the midterms amid backdrop of violence MORE.
Trump has repeatedly derided the probe as a “witch hunt” against him, insisting there was no collusion between his campaign and Moscow.
At a press conference earlier Wednesday, Trump said the investigation was “very bad” for the country.
Rosenstein himself has been no stranger to Trump’s criticism or media attention.
The New York Times reported in September that Rosenstein privately discussed secretly recording Trump and recruiting other Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to expel him from office.
The report, which Rosenstein has refuted, triggered widespread speculation that the deputy attorney general could be fired or resign. But after a meeting aboard Air Force One in October, Trump said he had no plans to remove him and described their relationship as positive.
Trump has acknowledged in recent days that there would likely be a shuffle in his Cabinet after the midterms, though he downplayed it as normal for such changes to occur after an election.
“Administrations make changes usually after midterms and probably we’ll be right in that category. I think it’s very customary,” Trump told reporters before leaving for a campaign rally in Ohio on Monday afternoon.
“For the most part, I love my Cabinet,” Trump continued. “We have some really talented people. Look at the deals we’re making on trade. Look at the job we’ve done on so many different things, including foreign affairs. I mean, we’ve done record-setting work. I don’t know that we get the credit for it, but that’s OK.”
The Trump administration has experienced significant turnover in the two years since Trump’s election, particularly with respect to his national security team. High-level departures have included two national security advisers and, more recently, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyRepublican McMaster holds onto South Carolina governor’s mansion US presses China to release detained Muslims from internment camps The Hill’s Morning Report — Judgment Day: New data suggest big Dem gains in House, governors’ races MORE.
Others have been rumored to be on their way out, such as Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill’s Morning Report — Judgment Day: New data suggest big Dem gains in House, governors’ races Overnight Defense: Iran sanctions back in place | Trump grants waivers to Iranian civil nuclear projects | Trump ‘surprised’ at question about replacing Mattis | Study pegs border deployment cost at M-0M Trump says Cabinet changes likely after midterms MORE.