Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pushed out on Wednesday in what could potentially trigger consequences as significant as the dissolution of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Here's what you need to know.
What does it mean that Sessions was forced to resign?
Because Sessions resigned, President Trump was able to immediately appoint a new acting attorney general, rather than needing to go through the Senate approval process otherwise required to name a new AG. Sessions had recused himself from any involvement in the Mueller investigation; his replacement will not have the same obligation.
Who is the new attorney general?
Matthew Whitaker will serve as acting attorney general. He was formerly chief of staff to Jeff Sessions.
Whitaker, a Republican, published an op-ed in CNN last year arguing that Mueller had gone too far in his probe, an opinion shared by the president. "It does not take a lawyer or even a former federal prosecutor like myself to conclude that investigating Donald Trump's finances or his family's finances falls completely outside of the realm of his 2016 campaign and allegations that the campaign coordinated with the Russian government or anyone else," Whitaker argued. "That goes beyond the scope of the appointment of the special counsel."
What can Whitaker do now?
Sessions' ousting will likely tarnish the integrity of the ongoing Mueller investigation in the eyes of many Democrats and Republicans alike, and Whitaker can even technically fire the special counsel if there is "cause." Earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee progressed legislation that would allow Mueller to "challenge" a potential firing "in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia," NBC News explains, although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has so far refused to bring it to the floor, arguing: "This is not necessary, there’s no indication that Mueller is going to be fired."
Additionally, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will no longer be in charge of overseeing the Mueller investigation, NBC News reports.
What will Democrats do?
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) assured that there would be swift action if the Mueller investigation came under threat, vowing that "protecting Mueller and his investigation is paramount. It would create a constitutional crisis if this were a prelude to ending or greatly limiting the Mueller investigation." Jeva Lange