The Irish Times view on the Mueller investigation: End of Sessions

Now it is the turn of Matthew Whitaker to recuse himself

Few outside his own family have been more loyal to Donald Trump, or more assiduous in implementing his agenda, than Jeff Sessions. Photograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Few outside his own family have been more loyal to Donald Trump, or more assiduous in implementing his agenda, than Jeff Sessions. Photograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

 

Few outside his own family have been more loyal to Donald Trump, or more assiduous in implementing his agenda, than Jeff Sessions. One of the first national politicians to champion Trump, having joined the businessman’s presidential campaign at a time when most Republicans treated him as a no-hoper, the Alabama lawyer was a driving force behind Trump’s hardline policies on immigration and the border. Rewarded with the post of attorney general when Trump became president, he did more than anyone in cabinet to turn Trump’s pledges on immigration, violent crime and opioids into reality.

But the relationship soured almost immediately after Sessions took over at the justice department. After revelations that he had failed to report meetings with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 campaign, Sessions recused himself from overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the election. Trump never forgave him, seeing the recusal as an act of personal disloyalty. To have fired Sessions before the midterms could have damaged Republican candidates. So the president waited until they were over, and finally forced Sessions to resign on Wednesday. He was immediately replaced as acting attorney general by Matthew Whitaker, a Trump loyalist who has openly called for special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation to be reined in.

The removal of Sessions presents the Democratic Party with a dilemma as it prepares to take control of the House of Representatives. Its new majority status there will give it significant investigative powers, but party leaders know that aggressive early use of those powers risks alienating many of those moderate Republicans who voted for them on Tuesday. As a first step, the Democrats, joined by responsible Republicans, should call for Whitaker to recuse himself from oversight of the Russia inquiry on the grounds of a potential conflict of interest. They must also make clear that any interference in the investigation, or any attempt to shut it down, would amount to a grave breach of the rule of law and would provoke the strongest possible response.

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