House Democrats are already threatening an investigation into Jeff Sessions’ firing and the president’s motives — as it could derail the special counsel probe into Russian involvement in the 2016 election.
“It is impossible to read Attorney General Sessions’ firing as anything other than another blatant attempt by @realDonaldTrump to undermine & end Special Counsel [Robert] Mueller’s investigation,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader who is poised to become the House Speaker after Democrats swept the chamber in Tuesday’s election, wrote on Twitter.
Sessions submitted his resignation letter to the president Wednesday afternoon, after months of indications he’d be fired after the midterms. The AG recused himself in March 2017 from control of the special counsel investigation because of his contacts with Russia as part of Trump’s campaign, handing that authority to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Trump's been openly bitter about the recusal and critical of Sessions ever since.
The president tweeted Sessions will be temporarily replaced by Matthew Whitaker, an Iowa Republican who was Sessions’ chief of staff. Now, Whitaker — who has criticized the scope of the Russia investigation — will have authority over it.
“Given his record of threats to undermine & weaken the Russia investigation, Matthew Whitaker should recuse himself from any involvement in Mueller’s investigation. Congress must take immediate action to protect the rule of law and integrity of the investigation,” Pelosi wrote.
Mueller has already been looking into Trump’s statements about removing Sessions to determine whether they fit a pattern of obstructing justice, according to the Washington Post.
And Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, who will likely become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, asked on Twitter: “Why is the President making this change and who has the authority over Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation?” We will be holding people accountable.” Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland and ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who will also likely become chairman, suggested outright that Congress launch an investigation into Sessions’ exit.
“Congress must now investigate the real reason for this termination, confirm that Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is recused from all aspects of the Special Counsel’s probe, and ensure that the Department of Justice safeguards the integrity of the Mueller investigation,” Cummings said in a statement.
“No one is above the law and any effort to interfere with the Special Counsel’s investigation would be a gross abuse of power by the President,” Warner wrote in a separate tweet.
Some Republican legislators released statements thanking Sessions for his service, without mentioning the ongoing probe. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, for one, released a statement praising Sessions, saying he was “committed to the rule of law, and his deep abiding concern for our country.” And Sen. Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, also thanked Sessions in a statement on Twitter and called him a “true public servant.”
And Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who had once warned there would be “holy hell to pay” if Sessions were fired, said he was looking forward to working with Trump to help start a “new chapter at the Department of Justice and deal with both the opportunities and challenges our nation faces.”
Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, called the timing of Sessions’ firing “suspect.” He also asked that Whitaker recuse himself from the Mueller investigation. And Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat and ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote on Twitter that “this must not be the first step in an attempt to impede, obstruct or end the Mueller investigation.”