US Attorney General Jeff Sessions was fired by President Donald Trump after enduring more than a year of bitter criticism from the president over his decision to step aside from the Russia investigation that has dogged the White House.
The move cast into doubt the ability of Special Counsel Robert Mueller — who had until now been insulated from White House interference — to complete the Russia probe, and drew stern warnings from Democrats for the president to stay clear.
Sessions’ departure came the day after a midterm vote that saw Republicans lose control of the House of Representatives but boost their Senate majority, and Trump’s swift move was seen as a sign of how he confident he was feeling after the polls.
In announcing the resignation — in a tweet thanking him “for his service” — Trump right away named as acting attorney general Sessions’ chief of staff Matthew Whitaker.
That set off immediate alarm bells: Whitaker has been overtly critical of the broad scope granted to Mueller’s team to probe beyond allegations Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia in 2016, into other ties between Trump, his family and aides, and Russia — an investigation the president calls a “witch hunt”.
In an op-ed in August last year he publicly urged Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — who oversees the probe — to “limit the scope of his investigation to the four corners of the order appointing him special counsel.”
As acting attorney general, Whitaker now has the power to wrest oversight away from Rosenstein and take charge himself.