Attorney General Jeff Sessions has resigned at the request of President Trump. The move follows months of Mr. Trump expressing his displeasure with Mr. Sessions in critical tweets.
The abrupt move ended Mr. Sessions’ tumultuous tenure as the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Throughout, he couldn’t shake Mr. Trump’s displeasure over the special-counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mr. Trump appointed Mr. Sessions’ Chief of Staff Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general.
Mr. Sessions’ departure creates instant uncertainty not only at the Justice Department, but also at special counsel Robert Mueller’s office. Mr. Sessions had recused himself from that investigation because of his role in the Trump campaign, but a new attorney general could oversee the probe.
Lawmakers of both parties have warned Mr. Trump against naming a new attorney general to weaken Mr. Mueller, but some Republicans more recently have signaled a willingness to consider replacements.
Any new nominee is certain to be closely scrutinized during the Senate confirmation process over whether the Mueller probe needed to be reined in or shut down entirely. Such a move likely could touch off a political crisis.
Mr. Sessions implemented Mr. Trump’s sweeping law-and-order agenda, but his tenure was dominated by the Mueller probe, which so far has netted the conviction of Trump campaign chairmanPaul Manafort, guilty pleas from other former Trump aides, and the indictment of many Russians, among other cases. A referral from Mr. Mueller also led Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to plead guilty to crimes that included campaign-finance violations during the 2016 campaign.
Mr. Sessions’ recusal—which left to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein the job of overseeing that investigation—led to rebukes and insults from Mr. Trump toward the former Alabama senator, who had been one of the president’s earliest congressional backers.
Mr. Trump said the recusal was a sign of weakness, excoriating Mr. Sessions as someone who “never took control” of the Justice Department. Legal experts said Mr. Sessions had little choice but to step aside from the case due to ethics rules.