Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Jack Gruber-USA TODAY

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Resigns At Trump's Request

November 07, 2018 - 2:55 pm
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WASHINGTON (WCBS/AP) – Attorney General Jeff Sessions, once one of President Donald Trump’s most loyal and trusted advisers stepped down Wednesday.

In a letter to Trump, Sessions said he was resigning at the president’s request.

The resignation was the culmination of a toxic relationship that frayed just weeks into the attorney general's tumultuous tenure, when he stepped aside from the investigation into potential coordination between the president's Republican campaign and Russia.

Sessions' departure from the Justice Department was not unexpected as Trump signaled he would be making changes to his administrations after the midterms. But, no one faced more rumors of a dismissal than the attorney general.

Trump announced the Cabinet change on Twitter. He repeatedly criticized Sessions, particularly for recusing himself from the Russian investigation. Though, in his posts, the president thanked Sessions for his service and wished him well.

Matthew G. Whitaker, Sessions' chief of staff, will become the Acting Attorney General.  The president said a permanent replacement would be nominated at a later date.

Earlier Wednesday at a White House press conference, CBS News reporter Major Garrett had asked about potential administration changes and specifically questioned if Sessions would remain in his position.

Trump did not offer a direct answer, saying instead, “We're looking at different people for different positions.”

Sessions had endured more than a year of stinging and personal criticism from the president. Trump also blamed him form the decision to open the door to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who took over the Russia investigation and began examining whether Trump's hectoring of Sessions was part of a broader effort to obstruct justice.

The deteriorating relationship then became a soap opera stalemate for the administration. Trump belittled Sessions but, perhaps following the advice of aides, held off on firing him. The attorney general, for his part, proved determined to remain in the position until dismissed. A logjam broke when Republican senators who had publicly backed Sessions began signaling a willingness to consider a new attorney general.

In attacks delivered on Twitter, in person and in interviews, Trump called Sessions weak and beleaguered, complained that he wasn't more aggressively pursuing allegations of corruption against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and called it "disgraceful" that Sessions wasn't more serious in scrutinizing the origins of the Russia investigation for possible law enforcement bias — even though the attorney general did ask the Justice Department's inspector general to look into those claims.

The broadsides escalated in recent months, with Trump telling a television interviewer that Sessions "had never had control" of the Justice Department and snidely accusing him on Twitter of not protecting Republican interests by allowing two GOP congressmen to be indicted before the election.

Sessions endured most of the name-calling in silence, though he did issue two public statements defending the department, including one in which he said he would serve "with integrity and honor" for as long as he was in the job.

The recusal from the Russia investigation allowed him to pursue the conservative issues he had long championed as a senator, often in isolation among fellow Republicans.

He found satisfaction in being able to reverse Obama-era policies that he and other conservatives say flouted the will of Congress, including by encouraging prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges they could and by promoting more aggressive enforcement of federal marijuana law. He also announced media leak crackdowns, tougher policies against opioids and his Justice Department defended a since-abandoned administration policy that resulted in parents being separated from their children at the border.

His agenda unsettled liberals who said that Sessions' focus on tough prosecutions marked a return to failed drug war tactics that unduly hurt minorities and the poor, and that his rollbacks of protections for gay and transgender people amount to discrimination.

Some Democrats also considered Sessions too eager to do Trump's bidding and overly receptive to his grievances.

Sessions, for instance, directed senior prosecutors to examine potential corruption in a uranium field transaction that some Republicans have said may have implicated Clinton in wrongdoing and benefited donors of the Clinton Foundation. He also fired one of the president's primary antagonists, former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, just before he was to have retired — a move Trump hailed as a "great day for democracy."

Despite it all, Sessions never found himself back in favor with the president.

Their relationship wasn't always fractured. Sessions was a close campaign aide, attending national security meetings and introducing him at rallies in a red "Make America Great Again" hat.

But the problems started after he told senators during his confirmation hearing that he had never met with Russians during the campaign. The Justice Department, responding to a Washington Post report, soon acknowledged that Sessions had actually had two encounters during the campaign with the then-Russian ambassador. He recused himself the next day, saying it would be inappropriate to oversee an investigation into a campaign he was part of.

The announcement set off a frenzy inside the White House, with Trump directing his White House counsel to call Sessions beforehand and urge him not to step aside. Sessions rejected the entreaty. Mueller's team, which has interviewed Sessions, has been investigating the president's attacks on him and his demands to have a loyalist in charge of the Russia investigation.

Sessions had been protected for much of his tenure by the support of Senate Republicans, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who had said he would not schedule a confirmation hearing for another attorney general if Trump fired him.

But that support began to fade, with Grassley suggesting over the summer that he might have time for a hearing after all.

And Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, another Judiciary Committee member who once said there'd be "holy hell to pay" if Trump fired Sessions, called the relationship "dysfunctional" and said he thought the president had the right after the midterm to select a new attorney general.

(© 2018 WBCS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)