WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senator Jerry Moran does not want the search for a new Attorney General to get in the way of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The Kansas Republican laid out his expectations for the Dept. of Justice under Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, including that it “allow(s) the Special Counsel investigation to continue unimpeded.” Additionally, Moran said the Department needs to continue overseeing the agencies that protect the United States and “carry out the rule of law.”
His statement came just hours after outgoing Attorney General Jeff Sessions stepped down. In it, Moran said Sessions served the country honorably and fulfilled his duties as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
“It was an honor to host Attorney General Sessions recently in Kansas, and I am appreciative of his work to ensure Kansas has the resources it needs to keep our communities safe,” Moran said.
Moran chairs the Senate’s Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, which holds the pursestrings for the Justice Dept. The two also served together in the Senate from 2011 until the then-Alabama Senator joined the Trump Administration early last year.
The new boss
President Donald Trump named Sessions’ former Chief of Staff to serve as Acting Attorney General until he can nominate Sessions replacement and the Senate looks to confirm his pick.
The move has potentially ominous implications for special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe because Whitaker has questioned the inquiry’s scope and spoke publicly before joining the Justice Department about ways an attorney general could theoretically stymie the probe.
Without Sessions’ campaign or Russia entanglements, there’s no legal reason Whitaker couldn’t immediately oversee the probe. And since Sessions technically resigned instead of forcing the White House to fire him, he opened the door under federal law to allowing the president to choose his successor instead of simply elevating Rosenstein, said University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck.
Rosenstein remains at the department and could still be involved in oversight.
Sessions steps down
Sessions’ resignation was the culmination of a toxic relationship that frayed just weeks into Sessions’ tenure, when he stepped aside from the Russia investigation because of his campaign work and following the revelation that he had met twice in 2016 with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Trump had repeatedly been talked out of firing Sessions until after the midterms, but he told confidants in recent weeks that he wanted Sessions out as soon as possible after the elections, according to a Republican close to the White House who was not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.
Trump blamed the recusal for the appointment of Mueller, who took over the Russia investigation and began examining whether Trump’s hectoring of Sessions was part of a broader effort to obstruct the probe.
The investigation has so far produced 32 criminal charges and guilty pleas from four former Trump aides. But the work is not done and critical decisions await that could shape the remainder of Trump’s presidency.