Sessions out at Justice Department

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsFive takeaways from Barr's new powers in 'spying' probe Amash: Some of Trump's actions 'were inherently corrupt' 'Persuadable' voters are key to the 2020 election — and the non-screaming news industry MORE has resigned as the top Justice Department official at President TrumpDonald John TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit 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 (Bob) Swan MuellerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump orders more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions Trump: Democrats just want Mueller to testify for a 'do-over' Graham: Mueller investigation a 'political rectal exam' 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 GrahamTrump declassification move unnerves Democrats Climate change is a GOP issue, too New Yorker cover titled 'The Shining' shows Graham, McConnell, Barr polishing Trump's shoes 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 RosensteinJake Tapper fact-checks poster Trump admin created describing Mueller investigation Jeffrey Rosen officially sworn in as deputy attorney general Democrats talk subpoena for Mueller 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) HaleyWill Trump ignore the Constitution and stay in White House beyond his term? Trump taps ex-State spokeswoman Heather Nauert to help oversee White House fellowships Conservatives slam Omar over tweet on Gaza violence MORE.

Others have been rumored to be on their way out, such as Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisShanahan orders new restrictions on sharing of military operations with Congress: report Pentagon reporters left in dark as Iran tensions escalate Trump officials slow-walk president's order to cut off Central American aid: report MORE.

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