Since early 2017, US President Donald Trump has had a heated relationship with his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose recusal from the Mueller investigation, probing Trump’s ties with Russia, broke up the close relationship between the two men.
The firing of Jeff Sessions, the top law enforcement official of the Trump administration, immediately after the midterm elections has raised fresh doubts about the prospects of Washington’s high-profile probe into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia.
Under the auspices of Sessions’ justice department, Robert Mueller, the former FBI director, has been leading the investigation into claims of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, resulting in dozens of indictments against people connected to either the Trump campaign or his administration.
After securing a Republican Senate majority in the Congress, has Trump sensed this was the right time to go act on Sessions? The former attorney general had the backing of top Republican leaders in the Senate until the midterms.
Against Trump’s express demand, in March 2017, Sessions recused himself from the Mueller investigation, citing evidence that he could be biased toward the investigation.
Since then, Sessions, the first Republican senator to endorse Trump and a hardline supporter of his agenda, has constantly been the subject of Trump’s wrath.
Despite both men sharing the same worldview on many topics, ranging from migration to crime and Christian conservatism, the recusal apparently made Trump insecure about the direction of the Mueller investigation, which has incrementally been zeroing in on Trump’s inner circle.
In addition to the recusal, loyalty—which is often the highest virtue in politics—could be the main cause of the bad blood between the two powerful men.
On the other hand, it is not clear what prevented Sessions from following Trump’s orders. Was it loyalty to his office, or the fear that he had not recused himself he might also be an eventual target in the Mueller investigation.
In his resignation letter, Sessions reminded the president that during his tenure he aimed “to implement the law enforcement agenda based on the rule of law that formed a central part of your campaign for the presidency.”
Trump has not only reprimanded Sessions for months but also has insulted him.
In February, Trump vented his anger toward Sessions describing his attorney general as “disgraceful.”
Despite staying silent most of the time, Sessions, who was able to survive longer than some of his colleagues like Rex Tillerson, the former Secretary of State, who learned of his firing from a Trump tweet, shot back after the president’s “disgraceful” tweet.
“As long as I am the Attorney General, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this Department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution,’’ Sessions said in a released statement.
But while Sessions officially retained the title of US Attorney General until Wednesday, it was all too clear that he was not Trump's attorney general.
“I don’t have an attorney general,” said Trump in September during a newspaper interview.
Matthew Whitaker, a Trump loyalist who was Sessions’ chief of staff, will replace Sessions, in an acting role, Trump said in another tweet.
In the past, Whitaker has criticised the US Russian meddling probe in strong terms, warning Mueller of “a red line” which “he is dangerously close to crossing”.
Whitaker has previously predicted that a new attorney general would probably make a considerably restrictive budget decision “so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.”
Trump has also given similar messages to the acting attorney general during his latest press conference where he publicly reprimanded Jim Acosta, one of CNN’s chief correspondents, about the journalist’s questioning of his migrant policies.
“This is an investigation where many many millions of dollars have been spent. There is no collusion. It’s supposed to be a collusion. There is no collusion. I think it’s very bad for the country. I think it’s a shame,” Trump said.
Until now, the Mueller investigation has resulted in several guilty pleas and convictions concerning corruption charges, including Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign manager, and Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.
Whitaker will now have oversight power in the Mueller investigation according to a justice department official.
It’s not clear what kind of role Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has not been considered as a loyalist and has overseen the Russian probe until now, will play concerning the investigation under the new attorney general.
Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have urged Trump not to prevent or intervene in the Mueller investigation.