Don't interfere in Mueller's Russia probe, Trump is told
Republicans and Democrats have warned US President Donald Trump against impeding the Russia investigation after attorney general Jeff Sessions was ousted in the immediate aftermath of the midterm elections.
Republican senators were among those to raise concerns after Mr Sessions was replaced by a Trump ally who has been critical of Special Council Robert Mueller and his investigation into Russian collusion in the 2016 elections.
The Russia probe, led by Mr Mueller under the supervision of the Justice Department, has clouded the Trump presidency. The president had long complained about Mr Sessions recusing himself from supervising Mr Mueller.
Mr Sessions's removal raised questions among politicians on both sides of the divide who are concerned about the future of the investigation under Mr Sessions' acting replacement, Matthew Whitaker.
In August 2017, Mr Whitaker wrote an opinion piece for CNN, titled 'Mueller's investigation of Trump is going too far', in which he argued the scope of the inquiry should be reduced.
His previous comments on the Mueller inquiry have caused concern. Earlier that year he suggested in an interview with CNN that Mr Trump could fire Mr Sessions and then appoint an acting attorney general who could reduce the budget of Mueller's probe, "to so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt".
Democrats were swift to pick up on Mr Whitaker's controversial remarks. "Given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation, Mr Whitaker should recuse himself from its oversight for the duration of his time as acting attorney general," Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, said in a statement.
"Congress must take bipartisan action to protect the integrity of Special Counsel Mueller's investigation," said Steny Hoyer, the Democrats' No 2 in the House of Representatives, hours after his party won a majority.
If Mr Sessions's departure was "an opening move" by Mr Trump to meddle in the Mueller investigation, Mr Hoyer said in a statement: "The president must be held accountable."
Most Republicans remained silent about Mr Whitaker, with several saying they were looking forward to working with Mr Trump to find a long-term successor. But Mitt Romney, the party's 2012 presidential nominee who was elected to the Senate for Utah, warned Mr Mueller's probe should not be affected by Mr Sessions's departure.
"Under Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, it is imperative that the important work of the Justice Department continues, and that the Mueller investigation proceeds to its conclusion unimpeded," he tweeted.
Lamar Alexander, Republican senator for Tennessee, issued a warning, saying the Senate will not confirm a successor to Mr Sessions who would stop the Russia investigation. Susan Collins, Republican senator for Maine, also warned Mr Trump against interfering with Mr Mueller's Russia investigation, saying he "must be allowed" to finish it.
A Justice Department spokeswoman, asked if Mr Whitaker would now oversee Mr Mueller, replied: "The acting attorney general is in charge of all matters under the purview of the Department of Justice."
A spokesman for Mr Mueller's office declined to comment on Mr Sessions's departure and what it means for Mr Mueller's probe.
Mr Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said on Tuesday he assumed it was "not going to affect" the investigation.
The president sacked Mr Sessions in a Twitter message, saying he had replaced the attorney general with Mr Whitaker, who had previously been Mr Sessions's chief of staff.
Never in modern history has a president attacked a cabinet member as frequently and harshly in public as Mr Trump did Mr Sessions (71), one of the first members of Congress to back his presidential campaign in 2015.
Mr Trump was only a few weeks into his presidency in March 2017 when Mr Sessions upset him.
Rejecting White House pleas not to do so, he stepped aside from overseeing an FBI probe of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, citing news reports of previously undisclosed meetings he had with Russia's ambassador to Washington for his recusal.
A permanent replacement for Mr Sessions must be confirmed by the Senate, which the Republicans will continue to control as a result of Tuesday's midterm elections. (© Daily Telegraph, London)