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Renato Mariotti @renato_mariotti
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THREAD: What should we make of Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions?
1/ Today Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The letter above is written as a “resignation” by Sessions, but it makes clear in the first line that Sessions resigned at Trump’s request.

This has been rumored for months, so it doesn’t come as a surprise.
2/ The most immediate consequence of this firing is that Matthew Whitaker is now the Acting Attorney General. (Trump was able to appoint an Acting AG partly because Sessions agreed to resign rather than to be formally fired.)
3/ Whitaker previously wrote in this op-ed for @CNN that Mueller should not be permitted to investigate Trump's finances, arguing that Mueller was "going too far." He argued that Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein should order Mueller to rein himself in. cnn.com/2017/08/06/opi…
4/ Unless Whitaker is confirmed by the Senate, however, he will not oversee the Mueller investigation. For right now, until/unless Rosenstein is fired, Rosenstein still oversees the Mueller investigation.
5/ If Rosenstein is fired, Solicitor General Noel Francisco would oversee the Mueller investigation until a new Attorney General is confirmed. Many are concerned that Francisco would limit or impede Mueller.
6/ Francisco is a former partner at a law firm that represents the Trump Campaign, which could be a conflict that would prevent Francisco from overseeing the Mueller investigation. But he obtained an ethics waiver in April relieving him of the conflict. citizensforethics.org/crew-discovers…
7/ (The article linked in the last tweet discusses potential issues with that waiver.) In any event, a new Senate-confirmed Attorney General would oversee the Mueller investigation regardless of whether Rosenstein is fired. For that reason, the GOP Senate majority matters.
8/ As a practical matter, if Rosenstein is fired and/or if the Senate confirms a new Attorney General, the Mueller investigation is at risk because whoever oversees Mueller could limit his actions or impede his investigation.
9/ Under the special counsel regulations, the AG can require Mueller to explain steps he takes and overrule them if they are "so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued." law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/28/60…
10/ If Mueller is overruled, Congress must be notified. In addition, Mueller can be removed for "misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies." law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/28/60…
11/ So the firing of Sessions has obvious potential practical consequences. It also has significant potential legal consequences for Trump. Mueller is already investigating Trump for obstructing justice, and the biggest hurdle in an obstruction case is proving "corrupt" intent.
12/ The firing of Sessions could provide relevant evidence because many of Trump's statements and actions indicate that he was angry at Sessions for recusing himself and because he wanted an Attorney General who would protect him.
13/ For example, Trump reportedly ordered the White House Counsel to stop Sessions from recusing himself. When McGahn was unsuccessful, Trump reportedly erupted in anger, saying he needed Sessions to “protect him” and “safeguard” him. nytimes.com/2018/01/04/us/…
14/ Then, according to @nytimes, Trump erupted at Sessions after Mueller was appointed, accusing him of “disloyalty” for recusing himself from the Russia investigation at the recommendation of career Justice Department staff. politico.com/magazine/story…
15/ All of this (and other comments Trump made since) suggests that Trump was angry that Sessions would not interfere with, stop, or restrict the Mueller investigation. This and other evidence could indicate that Trump fired Sessions with the intent of impeding the investigation.
16/ As I write this thread, many of you are indicating to me that Rosenstein has reportedly been removed from oversight of the Mueller investigation. That appears to be inconsistent with prior Justice Department practice, and could provide additional evidence of obstruction.
17/ If Trump wanted to minimize the ability of others to argue that he was obstructing justice, he would have waited to try to remove Rosenstein from overseeing the Mueller investigation and done so in a manner that could not be challenged or questioned.
18/ This suggests that Trump's intent is to restrict or end the Mueller probe. He fired Sessions a day after the midterm elections, replaced him with a man who publicly called for Mueller to be reined in, and that man has already removed Rosenstein from overseeing Mueller.
19/ House Democrats will be able to investigate these matters, and could ultimately impeach Trump, but 67 votes in the Senate would be needed to convict and remove Trump from office. As long as Senate Republicans back Trump, he may feel he has room to act against Mueller.
20/ It would be difficult to end all of the various investigations that comprise what we typically call the "Mueller investigation," and there are investigations that Mueller doesn't oversee, such as the Manhattan investigation looking at Michael Cohen and the Trump Organization.
21/ But there is no question that Whitaker could severely burden, restrict, or even remove Mueller. As a practical matter, whether Trump faces consequences depends a lot on Senate Republicans or, in the alternative, state Attorneys General like the newly-elected New York AG. /end
CORRECTION: As @steve_vladeck and @matthewamiller point out, Whitaker is not an "Acting Acting AG," so he immediately can oversee Mueller if he is lawfully appointed. (I'll discuss this and other issues in a special #OnTopic podcast out tomorrow morning.)
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