Friday 20 September 2019

Jeff Sessions resigns as US attorney general ‘at Donald Trump’s request’

The decision to leave his post comes after Mr Sessions endured more than a year of blistering and personal attacks from Mr Trump.

Jeff Sessions has resigned as US attorney general (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Jeff Sessions has resigned as US attorney general (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

By Eric Tucker, Associated Press

US attorney general Jeff Sessions has resigned as the country’s chief law enforcement officer.

Mr Sessions announced his resignation in a letter to President Donald Trump and said it came at “your request”.

The decision to leave his post comes after Mr Sessions endured more than a year of blistering and personal attacks over his recusal from the investigation into ties between Russia and Mr Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Mr Trump announced the resignation in a tweet and tweeted separately that he was naming Mr Sessions’ chief of staff Matthew Whitaker, a former United States attorney from Iowa, as acting attorney general.

The resignation was the culmination of a toxic relationship that frayed just weeks into Mr Sessions’ tumultuous tenure, when he stepped aside from the investigation into potential co-ordination between the president’s campaign and Russia.

Mr Trump blamed the decision for opening the door to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who took over the Russia investigation and began examining whether Mr Trump’s hectoring of Mr Sessions was part of a broader effort to obstruct justice and stymie the probe.

The Justice Department did not announce a departure for deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mr Mueller more than a year-and-a-half ago and has closely overseen his work since then.

The relentless attacks on Mr Sessions came even though the Alabama Republican was the first US senator to endorse Mr Trump and despite the fact that his crime-fighting agenda and priorities – particularly his hawkish immigration enforcement policies – largely mirrored the president’s.

But the relationship was irreparably damaged in March 2017 when Mr Sessions, acknowledging previously undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador and citing his work as a campaign aide, recused himself from the Russia investigation.

The decision infuriated Mr Trump, who repeatedly lamented that he would have never selected Mr Sessions if he had known the attorney general would recuse.

The recusal left the investigation in the hands of Mr Rosenstein, who appointed Mr Mueller as special counsel two months later after Mr Trump fired then-FBI director James Comey.

Donald Trump’s relationship with Jeff Sessions quickly soured (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

The rift lingered for the duration of Mr Sessions’ tenure, and the attorney general, despite praising the president’s agenda, never managed to return to Mr Trump’s good graces.

The deteriorating relationship became a soap opera stalemate for the administration. Mr Trump belittled Mr Sessions but, perhaps following the advice of aides, held off on firing him.

The attorney general, for his part, proved determined to remain in the position until dismissed. A logjam broke when Republican senators who had publicly backed Mr Sessions began signalling a willingness to consider a replacement.

In attacks delivered on Twitter, in person and in interviews, Mr Trump called Mr Sessions weak and beleaguered, complained that he was not more aggressively pursuing allegations of corruption against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and called it “disgraceful” that Mr Sessions was not more serious in scrutinising the origins of the Russia investigation for possible law enforcement bias – even though the attorney general did ask the Justice Department’s inspector general to look into those claims.

The broadsides escalated in recent months, with Mr Trump telling a television interviewer that Mr Sessions “had never had control” of the Justice Department and snidely accusing him on Twitter of not protecting Republican interests by allowing two Republican congressmen to be indicted before the election.

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