WHITE House counsellor Kellyanne Conway has defended the exit of Attorney-General Jeff Sessions after it was labelled a “constitutional crisis”.
Mr Sessions’ former chief of staff, Matt Whitaker, is now acting Attorney-General and has authority to oversee the remainder of the Russia probe.
Mr Sessions’ firing immediately threw into question whether the 18-month-old Mueller probe would be able to continue unimpeded.
Ms Conway spoke to reporters at the White House and was asked if US President Donald Trump had instructed Mr Whitaker to limit the Russia investigation.
She said the “president hasn’t instructed him to do anything” beyond serve as acting Attorney-General.
Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein previously oversaw the probe.
Ms Conway said Mr Rosenstein was at the White House on Wednesday for a regularly scheduled meeting and was expected back for another such meeting on Thursday.
In an opinon piece published by the New York Times, lawyers Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III argued Mr Trump’s appointment of the acting attorney general was unconstitutional.
“Mr. Trump’s installation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States after forcing the resignation of Jeff Sessions is unconstitutional. It’s illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid,” they wrote.
NADLER FIRES UP
REPRESENTATIVE Jerry Nadler, who will become the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, slammed the firing of Mr Sessions.
“The firing of Attorney-General … fits a clear pattern of interference from President Donald Trump in the work of the Department of Justice and the ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller,” the Democrat said in a statement.
“There is no mistaking what this means, and what is at stake: this is a constitutionally perilous moment for our country and for the President.
“Donald Trump may think he has the power to hire and fire whomever he pleases, but he cannot take such action if it is determined that it is for the purposes of subverting the rule of law and obstructing justice. If he abuses his office in such a fashion, then there will be consequences.”
SESSIONS IS GONE
OUTGOING Attorney-General Jeff Sessions farewelled staff, saying his time serving as President Donald Trump’s Attorney-General “goes beyond anything I ever would have thought possible.”
Sessions sent the message to Justice Department workers on Thursday, a day after he resigned at Mr Trump’s request.
Mr Sessions said he was proud to run the department and to work to reduce violent crime and overdose deaths. He’s also citing the department’s increased prosecutions for weapons and immigration offences.
Mr Sessions wrote that it was “an incredible honour to work with people who day after day and year after year consistently exceeded expectations.”
KREMLIN SAYS IT’S NOT RUSSIA’S PROBLEM
Meanwhile, the Kremlin has said that the Washington investigation into alleged interference by Moscow in the 2016 US election is not Russia’s problem.
“This investigation is a headache for our American colleagues, it has nothing to do with us,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists when asked if Session’s firing would influence the probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Moscow has repeatedly denied accusations it attempted to influence the vote that elevated Trump to the White House.
“What Mueller’s commission has produced up to now has hardly been able to stand up to serious critical assessment,” Mr Peskov added.
On Wednesday Mr Sessions became the first casualty of a cabinet shake-up that had been expected from Mr Trump following midterm elections the day before.
Mr Trump had repeatedly publicly assailed Mr Sessions for not taking a tougher approach to illegal immigrants.
Mr Trump also accused him of protecting Mr Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russians — an investigation that is also examining whether the president himself obstructed justice.
Originally published as ‘Perilous moment’ rocks US