HOT OFF THE WIRE

Trump fires Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Trump fires Attorney General Jeff Sessions

  • 7 November 2018
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Sessions was the first US senator to endorse Mr Trump for president

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been fired by President Donald Trump.

The president had repeatedly criticised his top law enforcement official after he recused himself from the Russia investigation dogging the White House.

Mr Trump tweeted that Mr Sessions will be temporarily replaced by his chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, who has criticised the Russia inquiry.

"We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well!" Mr Trump wrote on Wednesday.

In a resignation letter, Mr Sessions - a former Alabama senator who was an early supporter of Mr Trump - made clear the decision to go was not his own.

"Dear Mr President, at your request I am submitting my resignation," he wrote in an undated letter.

"Most importantly as my time as attorney general, we have restored and upheld the rule of law," Mr Sessions added, while thanking the Republican president.

Mr Trump has repeatedly pilloried his top law enforcement official since Mr Sessions stepped aside from the Russia investigation in March 2017, allowing his deputy Rod Rosenstein to lead an inquiry that has dogged the White House.

In July 2017 Mr Trump told the New York Times: "Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else."

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Media captionPresident Trump: "This is a hot White House"

Mr Trump has at various times belittled Mr Sessions as "beleaguered", "VERY weak", and "DISGRACEFUL".

According to a White House official, Mr Trump's Chief of Staff John Kelly called Mr Sessions before Mr Trump's combative press conference to discuss mid-term election results on Wednesday.

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Media captionRelations between the two soured in 2017

Mr Sessions' exit comes as Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues to hunt for evidence of potential collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Moscow.

Mr Mueller's wide-ranging investigation - overseen by the Department of Justice - has resulted in a series of criminal charges against several of Trump associates.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer tweeted after Wednesday's announcement was made: "Clearly, the President has something to hide."

He added: "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."

Is Trump trying to shut down the Russia probe?

Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, BBC Washington

The presidential axe that had been hovering over Jeff Sessions for what has seemed like an eternity just came swinging down with a thud. Donald Trump had previously said he would wait until after the mid-term elections to decide his attorney general's fate, and he did - but just barely.

And like that the duties of overseeing Robert Mueller's Russia investigation shift from the man who appointed the special counsel, Rod Rosenstein, to a man who has been a critic of it, Department of Justice Chief-of-Staff Matthew Whitaker.

In an opinion piece for The Hill before he took the Department of Justice chief of staff job, Mr Whitaker wrote that calls for an as yet-to-be-named independent prosecutor would be "just craven attempts to score cheap political points". In April 2007, he wrote for CNN that any Mueller investigation into the president's finances would be "going too far".

What happens next is critical. Mr Mueller's inquiry could continue unabated - although the special counsel must surely be considering tightening his timeline. There is also the possibility, however, that this is just the opening move of a White House effort to shut down the probe or keep its findings out of the public eye.