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Attorney General Jeff Sessions Steps Down As Asked By Donald Trump

It remains to be seen whether Trump will tap Whitaker for the job permanently and send his name to the Senate for confirmation.

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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions attends a news conference on the arrest of a suspect in the sending of at least a dozen parcel bombs to Democratic politicians and high-profile critics of President Trump. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump forced his controversial Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign Wednesday, setting up a possible showdown with newly energized congressional Democrats over the investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

Sessions, in a resignation letter to Trump, wrote that he was stepping down at “your request,” accepting a fait accompli he’d long sought to avert despite Trump’s repeated public humiliations of the attorney general over his recusal from oversight of the Russia probe.

The forced departure of Sessions, a former Republican senator and early supporter of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, capped a turbulent tenure that hit a rough patch in early 2017 when he stepped aside from the Russia investigation shortly after taking office.

Trump blamed Sessions’ recusal for the speedy appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and, over the course of the attorney general’s 20-month tenure, repeatedly castigated Sessions for failing to rein in what he called a “witch hunt” being led by Mueller and “17 Angry Democrats.”

While undertaking a wholesale repeal of Obama-era policies and implementing Trump’s tough-on-crime and immigration agenda, Sessions was increasingly shunned by the president, to the point that Trump told an interviewer earlier this year, “I don’t have an attorney general.”

In a pair of tweets Wednesday afternoon announcing Sessions’ resignation, Trump thanked the attorney general for his service and said Matt Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff and a former U.S. attorney under former President George W. Bush, would take over as acting attorney general. A permanent replacement would be announced later, Trump said.

Though long expected, Sessions’ departure fueled Democratic fears that Trump may be maneuvering to assert control over the Mueller investigation through a trusted appointee or possibly shut down it all together.

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U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledges supporters as he arrives for a campaign rally at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. VOA

Congressional probe urged

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House oversight committee and a frequent Trump critic, urged Congress to investigate “the real reason” for the attorney general’s “termination.”

At a testy White House news conference earlier Wednesday, Trump said he could end the Mueller investigation “right now,” but “I stay away from it … I let it just go on.”

Other Democratic congressional leaders, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Mark Warner issued nearly identical tweets urging Whitaker to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, citing his vocal criticism of the 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,” Schumer tweeted.

 

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Then-Iowa Republican senatorial candidate and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker is pictured before a televised debate in Johnston, Iowa. VOA

 

Whitaker served as U.S. attorney for the southern district of Iowa from 2004 to 2009. According to his LinkedIn profile, he headed Foundations for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a self-described ethics watchdog, until September 2017, shortly before joining the Justice Department.

In an opinion piece for CNN.com in July 2017, two months after Mueller’s appointment, Whitaker wrote that he agreed with Trump that investigating the president’s finances fell outside Mueller’s mandate, and he urged Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to limit the special counsel’s authority.

‘In charge of all matters’

Asked whether Whitaker would take control of the Russia probe, Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said, “The acting attorney general is in charge of all matters under the purview of the Department of Justice.”

Flores did not directly answer questions about whether Whitaker had consulted or planned to consult Justice Department ethics experts on whether he should recuse himself from the Russia probe.

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Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., departs Capitol Hill, Oct. 6, 2018, in Washington. VOA

“We’re following regular order here,” she wrote via email.

John Malcolm, a former federal prosecutor now with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, said he saw no reason for Whitaker to step aside.

“He is the acting attorney general. He has no reason to recuse himself,” Malcolm told VOA.

Malcolm said Sessions did “a solid job of implementing the president’s law enforcement priorities,” and he praised the attorney general for “protecting the integrity of the department and trying to keep it above politics.”

It remains to be seen whether Trump will tap Whitaker for the job permanently and send his name to the Senate for confirmation.

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Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and close Trump ally, tweeted that he looked “forward to working with President Trump to find a confirmable, worthy successor. (VOA)

 

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Support for U.S. President Donald Trump Increases Slightly among Republicans

Trump, who is seeking re-election next year, has lost support, however, with Democrats and independents

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President Donald Trump listens during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, July 16, 2019, in Washington. VOA

Support for U.S. President Donald Trump increased slightly among Republicans after he lashed out on Twitter over the weekend in a racially charged attack on four minority Democratic congresswomen, a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll shows.

The national survey, conducted on Monday and Tuesday after Trump told the lawmakers they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” showed his net approval among members of his Republican Party rose by 5 percentage points to 72%, compared with a similar poll that ran last week.

Trump, who is seeking re-election next year, has lost support, however, with Democrats and independents since the Sunday tweetstorm.

Among independents, about three out of 10 said they approved of Trump, down from four out of 10 a week ago. His net approval – the percentage who approve minus the percentage who disapprove – dropped by 2 points among Democrats in the poll.

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President Donald Trump portrays Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., left, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., 2nd left, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY., 3rd left, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., right, as foreign-born troublemakers. VOA

Trump’s overall approval remained unchanged over the past week. According to the poll, 41% of the U.S. public said they approved of his performance in office, while 55% disapproved.

The results showed strong Republican backing for Trump as the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed a symbolic resolution on Tuesday, largely along party lines, to condemn him for “racist comments” against the four Democratic lawmakers.

All four U.S. representatives – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan – are U.S. citizens.

Three were born in the United States.

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The public response to Trump’s statements appeared to be a little better for him than in 2017, after the president said there were “very fine people” on both sides of a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In that instance, Trump’s net approval dropped by about 10 points a week after the Charlottesville rally.

This time, while Democrats and some independents may see clear signs of racial intolerance woven throughout Trump’s tweets, Republicans are hearing a different message, said Vincent Hutchings, a political science and African-American studies professor at the University of Michigan.

“To Republicans, Trump is simply saying: ‘Hey, if you don’t like America, you can leave,” Hutchings said. “That is not at all controversial. If you already support Trump, then it’s very easy to interpret his comments that way.”

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The national survey, conducted on Monday and Tuesday after Trump told the lawmakers they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Pixabay

By criticizing liberal members of the House, Trump is “doing exactly what Republicans want him to do,” Hutchings said. “He’s taking on groups that they oppose.”

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The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English and gathered responses from 1,113 adults, including 478 Democrats and 406 Republicans in the United States. It has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of 3 percentage points for the entire group and 5 points for Democrats or Republicans. (VOA)