US President Donald Trump forced out Attorney General Jeff Sessions a day after congressional elections, which saw the opposition Democratic Party wrest back control of the House of Representatives.
Sessions, an early Trump supporter who ran afoul of the president by recusing himself from an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 White House campaign, said in a letter to Trump that he had submitted his resignation “at your request”, Reuters reports.
The 71-year-old former US senator was informed on Wednesday morning by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly in a phone call that it was time to go, according to the report.
Sessions’ departure was the first in what could be a string of high-profile exits as Trump reshapes his team to gird for his own 2020 re-election effort, Reuters noted.
The Republican president named Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, as acting attorney general and said he will nominate someone for the job soon.
Meanwhile, Trump vowed to fight if the House of Representatives’ new Democratic majority launches probes into his administration.
During a combative news conference in which he tangled with reporters, Trump trumpeted his role in Republican gains in the Senate in Tuesday’s midterm congressional elections, and warned of a “warlike posture” in Washington if Democrats investigate him.
Democrats will now head House committees that can probe the president’s tax returns, which he has refused to turn over since he was a candidate, possible business conflicts of interest and any links between his 2016 campaign and Russia, a matter being investigated by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Mueller is overseen by Rosenstein, who reports to Sessions.
Trump said he could fire Mueller if he wanted to, but was hesitant to take that step. “I could fire everybody right now, but I don’t want to stop it, because politically I don’t like stopping it,” he said.
Trump, calling the Mueller Russia probe a witch hunt, has repeatedly said there was no collusion.
Trump was buoyed on Wednesday by victories that added to the Republican majority in the Senate, telling reporters at the White House that the gains outweighed the Democrats’ takeover of the House.
He said he was willing to work with Democrats on key priorities but felt any House investigations of his administration would hurt prospects for bipartisanship.
“They can play that game, but we can play it better,” Trump said of the possibility of Democratic investigations.
“All you’re going to do is end up in back and forth and back and forth, and two years is going to go up and we won’t have done a thing.”
Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader who could be the next speaker, called Sessions’ ouster a “blatant attempt” to undermine the Russia probe and urged Whitaker to recuse himself from any involvement.
Earlier, at a Capitol Hill news conference before news of Sessions’ firing, Pelosi said Democrats would be willing to work with Trump where possible. But she added, “We have a constitutional responsibility to have oversight.”
“I don’t think we’ll have any scattershot freelancing in terms of this. We will have a responsibility to honor our oversight responsibilities and that’s the path we will go down. We again (will) try to unify our country,” she said.
The Democrats fell short of a tidal wave of voter support that would have won them control of both chambers of Congress. But in the 435-member House, the party was headed for a gain of around 30 seats, beyond the 23 they needed to claim their first majority in eight years.
A Senate majority would have allowed Democrats to apply even firmer brakes on Trump’s policy agenda and given them the ability to block any future Supreme Court nominees.
“Today is more than about Democrats and Republicans; it’s about restoring the Constitution’s checks and balances to the Trump administration,” Pelosi told supporters at a victory party Tuesday night.
The divided power in Congress combined with Trump’s expansive view of executive power could herald even deeper political polarization and legislative gridlock in Washington, Reuters noted.
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