Dispatch November 7, 2018

Trump Just Forced Out His Attorney General To Obstruct the Mueller Investigation

Trump forced out Attorney General Jeff Sessions for one reason: to obstruct the Russia investigation.

Trump repeatedly criticized Sessions’ decision to recuse himself.

  • Trump stated, “He should not have recused himself from the Russia investigation … if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have quite simply picked somebody else.”
  • He reiterated it again, saying that the investigation was continuing “all because Jeff Sessions didn’t tell me he was going to recuse himself…I would have quickly picked someone else.”
  • Trump tweeted extreme criticisms of Sessions, including this from Joe diGenova: “’The recusal of Jeff Sessions was an unforced betrayal of the President of the United States.’ JOE DIGENOVA, former U.S. Attorney.”
  • In an August 2018 Fox News interview, Trump said that Sessions “never took control of the Justice Department” and that he “shouldn’t have” recused himself.

Trump has made it clear that he expected Sessions to protect him from the Russia probe. Sessions failed, and now he’s out.

  • Trump said he expected his attorney general to “protect” him from legal liability, saying “I don’t want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that, I will say this: Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him. […] When you look at the things that they did, and Holder protected the president. And I have great respect for that, I’ll be honest.”
  • Trump also indicated he wanted someone willing to do whatever it took to protect him, including breaking the law, asking (in reference to his notorious former fixer), “Where’s my Roy Cohn?”
  • Trump took his frustration out on then-White House Counsel Don McGahn, angry that McGahn was unable to prevent Sessions from recusing himself. In his final conversation with McGahn in October 2018, “the President groused to McGahn about Mueller’s appointment made on McGahn’s watch as White House counsel, and the cloud the investigation has continued to cast over the presidency.”

Matthew Whitaker, who Trump is attempting to install as the acting Attorney General, is a partisan Trump appointee who has repeatedly publicly attacked the Russia investigation and even outlined a plan to suffocate the Special Counsel probe:

  • In an op-ed titled “Mueller’s Investigation is Going Too Far,” Whitaker stated, “The President is absolutely correct. Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing.”
  • Whitaker has outlined how the president, with help from a compliant Acting Attorney General, could stifle the Mueller investigation, saying, “I think what ultimately the president is going to start doing is putting pressure on Rod Rosenstein, who is in charge of this investigation, is acting attorney general, and really try to get Rod to maybe even cut the budget of Bob Mueller and do something a little more stage crafty than the blunt instrument of firing the attorney general and trying to replace him.” Whitaker also stated, “I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced, it would recess appointment and that attorney general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigations grinds to almost a halt.”

Given Trump’s desire to have an attorney general who will hide him from the law, Sessions’ replacement must act immediately to make it clear that he will not interfere in the ongoing special counsel investigation.

  • The new attorney general must immediately issue a written order granting Mueller full independence.
  • The order must be clear that Mueller cannot be fired except for “extraordinary impropriety,” that political appointees won’t interfere in his decisions, and that he can provide information to Congress and the public as he sees fit.
  • There is precedent for this kind of order: acting attorney general Robert Bork issued a similar order after Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre to reassure people that the Watergate investigation would not be undermined.

By forcing out Sessions, Trump is trying to obstruct Mueller. It is imperative that the new attorney general publicly commit to not interfere with the special counsel investigation.