Sessions out at Justice Department

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsMulvaney positioning himself to be Commerce Secretary: report Graham: Trump’s new AG has ‘concerns’ about criminal justice bill Kentucky shooting suspect charged with federal hate crimes MORE has resigned as the top Justice Department official at President TrumpDonald John TrumpAvenatti ‘still considering’ presidential run despite domestic violence arrest Mulvaney positioning himself to be Commerce Secretary: report Kasich: Wouldn’t want presidential run to ‘diminish my voice’ MORE’s request, a development that is likely to spark a firestorm of criticism following the midterm elections.

The decision punctuates months of criticism by President Trump of his top law enforcement officer over his recusal from the ongoing Russia investigation. And it confirms widespread speculation that Trump would move to fire Sessions sometime after the midterms.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sessions agreed to resign at Trump’s request, according to a copy of his resignation letter obtained by The Hill.

“I came to work at the Department of Justice every day determined to do my duty and serve my country,” Sessions wrote. “I have done so to the best of my ability, working to support the fundamental legal processes that are the foundation of justice.”

Trump made the announcement over Twitter, thanking Sessions for his service and wishing him “well.” The president revealed that Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’s chief of staff, would take over as acting attorney general and said a permanent replacement would be nominated “at a later date.”

Over the past year, Sessions became a frequent punching back for Trump as he fumed over special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into potential collusion between his campaign and Moscow. Trump has repeatedly lashed out at his attorney general over his recusal from the investigation and other alleged failures.

The strained relationship appeared to reach a pivotal point in August when Trump in a Fox News interview faulted Sessions for failing to take control of “corruption” at the Justice Department and suggested he had only brought him into the administration because he demonstrated “loyalty” during the presidential campaign.

The episode prompted a rare, public rebuke from Sessions, who in a statement asserted he would not be “improperly influenced” by political pressures.

Since then, their bond has continued to falter. Trump told Hill.TV in September that he didn’t “have an attorney general” and suggested he was unhappy with Sessions's efforts on border security and other matters.

The president’s Republican allies, including Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Trump’s new AG has ‘concerns’ about criminal justice bill Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Border deployment 'peaked' at 5,800 troops | Trump sanctions 17 Saudis over Khashoggi killing | Senators offer bill to press Trump on Saudis | Paul effort to block Bahrain arms sale fails Senators introduce Trump-backed criminal justice bill MORE (S.C.), have signaled it would be appropriate for Trump to remove Sessions following the midterms. But the decision could aggravate some Republicans in the Senate and trigger criticism among Democrats and others who view it as an effort to interfere with the Mueller investigation.

Despite Republicans maintaining control of the Senate, Trump’s nominee is likely to face a difficult confirmation battle. It is unclear, at this point, who the president may appoint to replace Sessions.

The move is likely to be viewed by some critics as an effort by Trump to impede the Mueller investigation, which will now be overseen by Whitaker instead of Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinTop Dems: DOJ position on Whitaker appointment 'fatally flawed' Judge upholds Mueller indictment against Russian troll farm Over 1,600 lawyers sign letter saying Mueller probe must be protected MORE.

Trump has repeatedly derided the probe as a “witch hunt” against him, insisting there was no collusion between his campaign and Moscow.

At a press conference earlier Wednesday, Trump said the investigation was “very bad” for the country.

Rosenstein himself has been no stranger to Trump’s criticism or media attention.

The New York Times reported in September that Rosenstein privately discussed secretly recording Trump and recruiting other Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to expel him from office.

The report, which Rosenstein has refuted, triggered widespread speculation that the deputy attorney general could be fired or resign. But after a meeting aboard Air Force One in October, Trump said he had no plans to remove him and described their relationship as positive.

Trump has acknowledged in recent days that there would likely be a shuffle in his Cabinet after the midterms, though he downplayed it as normal for such changes to occur after an election.

"Administrations make changes usually after midterms and probably we'll be right in that category. I think it's very customary," Trump told reporters before leaving for a campaign rally in Ohio on Monday afternoon.

"For the most part, I love my Cabinet," Trump continued. "We have some really talented people. Look at the deals we're making on trade. Look at the job we've done on so many different things, including foreign affairs. I mean, we've done record-setting work. I don't know that we get the credit for it, but that's OK."

The Trump administration has experienced significant turnover in the two years since Trump’s election, particularly with respect to his national security team. High-level departures have included two national security advisers and, more recently, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyHaley honored with 'Woman of Valor' award at Independent Women's Forum gala Ben Shapiro mocks David Hogg over ‘shark attack’ tweet Hillicon Valley: DHS cyber unit gets makeover | Russia wants DNC hacking suit dismissed | Facebook paid group that linked critics to Soros | Panel warns of threat from Chinese tech | Koch groups criticize incentives to corporations after Amazon deal MORE.

Others have been rumored to be on their way out, such as Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisMacron’s 'Euro-army' is an idea whose time has come Pentagon limiting senior leader appearances at public events: report Pentagon: Number of troops at border has 'pretty much peaked' at 5,800 MORE.

--This report was updated on Nov. 8 at 7:14 a.m.