The move Wednesday has potentially ominous implications for special counsel Robert Mueller's probe given that the new acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, until now Sessions' chief of staff, has questioned the inquiry's scope and spoke publicly before joining the Justice Department about ways an attorney general could theoretically stymie the investigation. Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating potential collusion between Russian operatives and Trump associates during the 2016 presidential campaign and transition. Trump belittled Sessions but, perhaps following the advice of aides, held off on firing him.
Democratic Representative Jerry Nadler, who will likely become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee - which has congressional oversight over the Mueller probe - immediately responded to Sessions' resignation by demanding an explanation for the change.
In a CNN op-ed previous year, Whitaker wrote, "Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russian Federation 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing".
At a testy White House news conference earlier Wednesday, Trump said he could end the Mueller investigation "right now", but "I stay away from it". Trump's advisers are privately expressing worries that the special counsel, who's been out of the news for the past month, has been stealthily compiling information and could soon issue new indictments or a damning final report.
"So I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment and that attorney general doesn't fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigation grinds to nearly a halt", Whitaker said during an interview with CNN in July 2017.
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Republican control of both chambers of Congress had actually checked the ambitions of the Democrats, who have been warning for months that once they capture the House they will intensify congressional probes into Trump's ties to Russian Federation.
Bipartisan bills to protect Mueller from politically motivated removal have been introduced in the House and Senate.
Whitaker is a former USA district attorney and Division I football player who has been a longtime supporter of Trump and his allies. He did not mention that White House chief of staff John Kelly had called Sessions beforehand to ask for his resignation.
Republican Mitt Romney, the party's 2012 presidential nominee who was elected on Tuesday to the US Senate from Utah, also said Mueller's probe should not be affected by Sessions' departure. Whitaker garnered more than 11,000 votes in the primary, which he lost to Joni Ernst who went on to win election to the Senate.
Whitaker served as USA attorney for the southern district of Iowa from 2004 to 2009.
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Never in modern history has a president attacked a Cabinet member as frequently and harshly in public as Trump did Sessions, 71, who had been one of the first members of Congress to back his presidential campaign in 2015.
Whitaker's views as an outside commentator before joining the government have been music to the ears of Trump and Republicans.
Experts say, however, that any investigation into the role foreign countries play in domestic politics must delve down financial rabbit holes.
And separately, two years ago, after then-FBI Director James Comey announced he would not recommend charges against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server, Whitaker penned an opinion piece for USA Today headlined "I would indict Hillary Clinton". Federal prosecutors have said in court papers that the case involves numerous "uncharged" third parties and have argued against disclosing search warrants and other documents that would "certainly result in a very public guessing game" about their identities. "I disagree", Whitaker wrote.
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