Democrats are sounding the alarm after President Trump’s booted Jeff Sessions as Attorney General on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the Attorney General stood down after months of speculation, writing to Trump that he was submitting his resignation at Trump’s request.
The president repeatedly criticized the way Sessions ran the Justice Department and most particularly his early decision to recuse himself from all matters related to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
Several prominent Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who serves as ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, have raised concerns that Sessions’ departure could throw a wrench in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
“The firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions places the Special Counsel’s investigation in new and immediate peril,” Schiff said in a statement.
“It is abundantly clear that Sessions was forced out for following the advice of ethics lawyers at the Department of Justice and recusing himself from the Russia probe, and for failing to bring about an end to an investigation that has produced multiple indictments and convictions and may implicate the President or others around him,” Schiff said.
Democrats have major concerns regarding the newly appointed Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who has previously lashed out at Mueller and the Russia probe at large.
Schiff noted that Whitaker has argued that Mueller is prohibited from investigating Trump’s finances if they are relevant to the Russia investigation. The congressman said Whitaker had made that assertion “without legal basis.”
“In fact, this may be precisely why the President has chosen to put Whitaker in this role,” Schiff added.
Schiff said it was imperative that Mueller “continues his work without interference,” and said that any officials at the Department of Justice “with conflicts” should recuse themselves. Echoing the sentiments of many of his Democratic and Republican colleagues, Schiff declared, “no one is above the law.”
Schumer also called on Whitaker to step away from oversight of the Mueller probe.
“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.”
Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey called Session’s exit an “alarming development that brings us one step closer to a constitutional crisis,” and reiterated that Whitaker should recuse himself from the investigation.
“I’m concerned that President Trump made this decision based on his fear of being implicated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and frustration with Sessions’ recusal from that investigation,” Booker said in a statement.
Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic senator from California, said Trump “has made abundantly clear that he’ll take any action he can to undermine the Mueller investigation.” Feinstein praised deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein’s work before turning back to Whitaker: “No one who lacks Senate confirmation should be placed in charge of this investigation, especially Matthew Whitaker who publicly criticized Robert Mueller’s work just last year.”
Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire said in a statement she is “deeply concerned” about Sessions’ departure.
“Neither the President nor his appointees should interfere with the Special Counsel’s investigation – which has already resulted in indictments or guilty pleas of three companies and 32 people, including four senior leaders in the President’s campaign and Administration.”
“The investigation must be allowed to continue and to follow the facts wherever they may lead.”
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, stated that while he disagrees with Sessions’ positions on some issues, the circumstances surrounding his departure are unacceptable.
“There are many, many reasons to remove Attorney General Sessions,” Cummings said. “From his failure to disclose his communications with the Russians to his inhumane policy of separating children from their parents at the border —but one reason that is not acceptable is to interfere with or obstruct the Mueller investigation.”
A chorus of Republicans have also issued warnings
Several Republicans have also issued warnings following Sessions’ departure.
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said that no attorney general “can be confirmed who will stop that investigation.”
Susan Collins, the senator from Maine, is among the first members of her party to warn against Whitaker’s appointment. “It is imperative that the Administration not impede the Mueller investigation.”
And Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts governor who just won a Senate seat in Utah on Tuesday, said in a tweet it is crucial that Mueller’s investigation “proceeds to its conclusion unimpeded.”
John Haltiwanger and Sonam Sheth contributed to this report.