Political News

Donald Trump just seized control of the Russia probe

Posted November 7, 2018 7:31 p.m. EST

— A day after voters chose divided government by handing the House majority back to Democrats, President Donald Trump made the sort of I-do-what-feels-right-when-it-feels-right move that has become his hallmark over his past three years in political life: He fired Jeff Sessions.

And in so doing, Trump appears to have wrestled back operational control of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the possibility of collusion between Trump's campaign and a foreign power.

In firing Sessions -- by tweet, natch -- Trump announced that Matt Whitaker, Sessions' chief of staff at Justice, would become the acting Attorney General, a post he can hold for roughly 200 days because he has not been confirmed previously by the Senate.

But even having Whitaker in the job for the next 100 days could be enough for Trump. Whitaker has been openly critical of the breadth of Mueller's investigation and even mused on this chain of events in a 2017 interview with CNN:

"I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced, it would recess appointment and that attorney general doesn't fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigations grinds to almost a halt."

Given Whitaker's past comments, Democrats immediately called on him to recuse himself from oversight of the Muller probe. Which, um, ain't happening.

Trump got rid of Sessions because he could never forgive the former Alabama Senator for recusing himself in the Russia probe, a recusal that placed deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in charge of the investigation and, in Trump's mind, led to the Mueller appointment.

And, Trump could have simply promoted Rosenstein to Sessions' job but passed over him for Whitaker. That Rosenstein has repeatedly expressed his support for Sessions, Mueller and the special counsel probe is not a coincidence in his being passed over for the job.

Don't believe me on Trump's intentions as it relates to the Russia probe. Believe Trump himself. Here's what he said about the probe -- and his role in it -- during a press conference Wednesday:

"I stay away from it. But you know what I do? I let it just go on. They're wasting a lot of money, but I let it go on, because I don't want to do that. But you're right; I could end it right now. I could say, 'That investigation is over.'"

Ahem. Cough.

Ominous, no? Especially when you consider that, according to the reporting, Trump knew Sessions was already out when he held the press conference. (White House chief of staff John Kelly fired Sessions on Wednesday morning.)

So, Trump has referred to the Mueller probe as a witch hunt and a hoax more than 160 times since it began last spring. He has said it is a waste of money and sought to discredit not only Mueller but the investigators he has hired to work for the special counsel's office. And he got rid of a guy who supported the probe, passed over another guy who also approved of the probe and chose as acting attorney general a guy who has said all sorts of negative things about the probe.

The Point: All the lights are blinking red. ALL OF THEM.