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House Dems call for 'emergency hearing' after Sessions ousting, urge acting AG to recuse himself

House Dems call for 'emergency hearing' after Sessions ousting, urge acting AG to recuse himself
© Greg Nash

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are calling for an emergency hearing after Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says DOJ to probe Trump-era subpoenas of lawmaker records Democrats demand Barr, Sessions testify on Apple data subpoenas MORE announced he was resigning at President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE's request on Wednesday.

House Judiciary Democrats are demanding answers for Sessions's ousting in letters written to the panel's GOP chairman and Sessions's replacement, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, respectively.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats pressed Whitaker, who was Trump's pick to serve as acting attorney general, and Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteBottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden Press: Trump's final presidential pardon: himself MORE (R-Va.) on Thursday about how the shake-up at the highest levels of the Justice Department (DOJ) will impact special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE's investigation. 

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In their letter to Whitaker, the Democrats warned that a "constitutional crisis" could ensue if the Mueller probe is not protected, urging the new top cop to recuse himself and place Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinDemocrats claim vindication, GOP cries witch hunt as McGahn finally testifies Protect the police or the First Amendment? Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' MORE back in the supervisory role for the probe.

“There is little doubt that President Trump’s decision to force the firing of Attorney General Sessions places Special Counsel Mueller’s inquiry at grave risk,” Democrats' letter to Whitaker reads. 

The lawmakers asked Whitaker to confirm who is supervising the investigation, while also "strongly" suggesting that Rosenstein should continue to oversee the probe. They argued that it would be "inappropriate" for Whitaker to continue to oversee the investigation given his history of a series of public comments about his views towards the Mueller investigation. Whitaker has previously commented that Rosenstein should limit the "scope" of the investigatio, writing in a CNN op-ed last year that it has gone "too far."

Whitaker, in appearances as a CNN contributor and op-ed pieces published in The Hill, echoed the president's views on the Mueller probe — comments he made before becoming Sessions's chief of staff. At the time, he was likely not privy to inside information about the Mueller investigation.

The Democrats urged Whitaker to protect the integrity of the investigation, stating that he should not fire Mueller without just cause and should preserve all documents tied to the president's decision to fire Sessions.

In their letter to Goodlatte, the Democrats called for the chairman to initiate an emergency hearing and bring forward a bill that would protect Mueller from being fired by the president for politically motivated reasons — remarks that came as they compared the Russia probe to the Watergate scandal.

“[T]he president now directly threatens the rule of law itself. Democrats and Republicans [should] set aside partisanship to avoid a full-fledged constitutional crisis in the Watergate era. It is therefore necessary that we set aside our political interests and work together to protect our nation and the rule of law from this grave threat," they wrote.

Whitaker assumed control of the investigation following his appointment on Wednesday, which the president announced on Twitter not long after a contentious and sprawling press conference earlier that day.

"The Acting Attorney General is in charge of all matters under the purview of the Department of Justice," DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement to The Hill on Wednesday.

Trump had long bashed Sessions over his recusal in the Russia probe. Sessions, who was the first GOP senator to endorse Trump in his 2016 campaign, faced repeated and public attacks from the president during his tenure, including Trump questioning whether he had an attorney general.

On Wednesday, Sessions agreed to resign at Trump’s request, according to a copy of his resignation letter obtained by The Hill. The firing took place one day after the midterm elections in which Democrats won enough seats to flip the House.

Already, top Democrats in the House and the Senate have called on Whitaker to recuse himself for comments he’s made about Mueller, including Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Democrats, who will take over the House in the next Congress, have already indicated that they plan to conduct oversight on a series of matters relating to the Trump administration — including his move to oust Sessions.