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Upset over Russia probe, Trump fires attorney general Jeff Sessions

President Donald Trump announced Jeff Sessions’ exit on Twitter and also the interim arrangement. But had his chief of staff John Kelly call up the former attorney general to deliver the decision and ask for his resignation.

world Updated: Nov 08, 2018 09:47 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Donald Trump,Jeff Sessions,mid-term elections
US president Donald Trump speaks during a swearing-in ceremony for attorney general Jeff Sessions at the White House in Washington on February 9, 2017. President Donald Trump fired attorney general Jeff Sessions on Wednesday, a day after he was handed a mixed mid-term verdict. (Reuters Photo)

President Donald Trump fired attorney general Jeff Sessions on Wednesday, a day after he was handed a mixed mid-term verdict, which he sought to spin as a victory, despite Republicans losing the House of Representatives, one of the two chambers of US Congress, and several governorships.

The president also warned Democrats, who won the House handily, against launching investigations against him and his presidency, as some of them have indicated they will, saying at a White House news conference he will retaliate with his own probes, which, he added, could lead to a “warlike” situation.

Sessions’s firing, which was long in the making and was expected after the mid-terms, may have set up the president’s first confrontation with the new House that he was referring. Many Democrats explicitly warned after the announcement that the dismissal should not become the first step towards shutting down special counsel Robert Muller’s Russia meddling probe that the president has called a “witch-hunt”.

A key reason for their alarm was the man the president picked to succeed Sessions in an interim capacity, Mathew Whitaker, the former attorney general’s chief of staff, and not the official number two, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who instituted the special counsel probe. Whitaker, on the other hand, is a known sceptic and critic of the investigation and has suggested choking it out of business by squeezing its budget.

“We are pleased to announce that Matthew G. Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States,” Trump said in a mid-afternoon tweet. “We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date,” he added.

Sessions had been on the US president’s exit list for most of his term, ever since he recused himself from overseeing the Russia probe on account of his own interactions with Russian officials that he failed to acknowledge at his confirmation. A livid Trump had publicly belittled him at every opportunity he could.

Trump announced Sessions exit on Twitter and also the interim arrangement. But had his chief of staff John Kelly call up the former attorney general to deliver the decision and ask for his resignation. Sessions sent in his resignation shortly, making it clear he was quitting because he had been asked to.

The pushback from Democrats buoyed by their victory overnight was swift and sharp.

“It is impossible to read Attorney General Sessions’ firing as anything other than another blatant attempt by @realDonaldTrump to undermine & end Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation,” tweeted Nancy Pelosi, the senior-most Democrat in the outgoing House who expects to head the new House as Speaker, a position that is second in line to the presidency (the first is the vice-president).

Other Democrats called on Whitaker to recuse himself from the probe given his public opposition to it, which will be a hard ask for him to deliver given that his criticism of the probe may have been the reason who he got the job.

A confrontation appears likely, with Democrats determined to pursue the House’s oversight mandate aggressively.

Democrats took the House winning 222 seats, four more than they needed; and picked up seven new governorships. Republicans retained the Senate with an expanded lead but lost seven gubernatorial races. The congressional verdicts were along expected lines, as forecast by multiple agencies.

“It was a big day yesterday, incredible day,” Trump said to reporters at the news conference. “And last night the Republican Party defied history to expand our Senate majority while significantly beating expectations in the House.”

He added: “I thought it was very close to a complete victory.”

Trump seemed unconvinced by his own bluster and sunny spin. Clearly unhappy about the loss of the House, which could hurt his legislative agenda at the least and threaten his presidency with the possibility of impeachment, he proceeded to name and shame Republicans who lost.

They lost, he complained, because they distanced themselves from him, his presidency and, most significantly, the sharp rhetoric he had deployed to rally his base.

“I saw Mia Love,” Trump said, referring to Ludmya “Mia” Love, a Republican who lost her re-election bid from Utah. “She’d call me all the time to help her with a hostage situation. Being held hostage in Venezuela. But Mia Love gave me no love, and she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”

First Published: Nov 08, 2018 09:00 IST