Step one: cleanse the skin?
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is out.
After taking several waves of criticism from President Donald Trump, Sessions sent the president a letter that opened with the line “At your request, I am submitting my resignation.”
The departure happened suddenly, but it likely wasn’t a surprise for everyone. In late October, the journalist Marcy Wheeler wrote a piece analyzing potential paths the president might take if the Democrats retook control of the House in the midterm elections:
Alternately, Trump could convince Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from the Russia investigation, to resign. Trump could replace him immediately with either Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar or Department of Transportation General Counsel Steven Bradbury, both Senate-approved officials who could take over temporarily under the Vacancies Reform Act. Both are reportedly under consideration to replace Sessions; both could fire Mueller if named attorney general.
Finally, Trump might even carry out a Wednesday Morning Massacre, working his way through the Department of Justice until someone decides they’ll back a claim that Mueller has engaged in misconduct—then use that accusation to justify firing him directly.
Sessions’s recusal from the Russia investigation may not have pleased the president. But he did otherwise generally follow his boss’s vision for running the Justice Department. NPR writes that he “managed to usher in a new era”:
Sessions threatened so-called sanctuary cities with the loss of federal funding and announced a “zero-tolerance policy” for people who cross the southern U.S. border illegally.
He decried a looming wave of violent crime across the country, even though criminologists maintain that homicides and assaults remain near historic lows in most places.
He ordered federal prosecutors to seek the most serious charges and stiff prison sentences against drug criminals, a stark reversal of President Barack Obama’s most prominent and bipartisan justice policy.
Sessions presided over a rollback in investigations of local police. He rescinded policies that directed federal prosecutors to go after only the biggest cases involving marijuana in states where the drug is legal. And he recommitted to using private prisons for U.S. inmates and detainees.
Sessions will be replaced in the interim by his chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker.
What happens to a “law and order” president when there’s a change at the top of the Justice Department?
- Marcy Wheeler Independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties; Senior fellow at George Washington University's Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. @emptywheel
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