Jeff Sessions resigns as US attorney general
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions/Shutterstock.com.
Updated: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has submitted his resignation, at the request of President Donald Trump.
“I came to work at the Department of Justice every day determined to do my duty and serve my country,” Sessions wrote in his undated resignation letter. “I have done so to the best of my ability, working to support the fundamental legal processes that are the foundation of justice.”
“We are pleased to announce that Matthew G. Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States. He will serve our Country well,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday, the day after the midterm elections. “We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date.”
This marks the end of a tumultuous tenure for Sessions. An early supporter of candidate Trump, he was known for turning campaign promises into policy.
From the October 2017 ABA Journal: Jeff’s Law: The attorney general sees his role as pushing present-day law enforcement toward a rose-colored past.
His resignation letter touted his accomplishments as attorney general: prosecuting firearm defendants, taking on transnational gangs, and immigration enforcement. Sessions said this work had brought results: “After two years of rising violent crime and homicides prior to this administration, those trends have reversed.”
Overall rates of violent crime have been experiencing a long-term, sharp decline since the early 1990s. According to the Pew Research Center, between 2008 and 2015, violent crime fell by 19 percent. Numbers are not yet available for the reporting period of 2017-18, but the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report shows a 0.8 percent decrease in violent crime and a 1.5 percent increase in murders from January 2017-June 2017 over the same time period the previous year.
Sessions has been heavily criticized for a number of immigration-related decisions, including limiting immigration judges’ ability to dismiss deportation cases, barring asylum claims for people fleeing domestic violence or gang violence, and the “zero-tolerance policy” that preceeded the family separation crisis in 2018. He also received pushback from courts for attempting to block federal grants from going to law enforcement agencies in sanctuary cities.
The president’s greatest frustration with Sessions was seemingly his recusal from overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian interference probe, which is being overseen by U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
After publicly admonishing Sessions on Twitter and in multiple media interviews—at one point saying he didn’t have an attorney general—Trump’s request for Sessions’ resignation comes as no surprise. In June, Sessions reportedly offered to resign, but Trump declined his offer.
In August, the president called Sessions “scared stiff and missing in action” and told Fox News that Sessions had failed to control “corruption” at the Justice Department. This caused Sessions to issue a rare public response saying he would not bend to political pressure. “While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” Sessions said.
It is unclear what impact, if any, Sessions’ resignation will have on Mueller’s investigation. Earlier this fall there was speculation that Rosenstein might be fired after a New York Times report said he privately discussed invoking the 25th Amendment and secretly recording the president. Rosenstein refuted the report.
Whitaker, before becoming Sessions’ chief of staff, opined on CNN in July 2017 that an acting attorney general could cut off the funding to Mueller’s investigation.
It is not immediately clear who the president will appoint to fill Sessions’ seat or if other staff shake-ups are imminent.
Updated throughout at 4:05 p.m. Updated at 5:01 p.m. to correct typos.