The day after Trump and the Republicans lost the House in the 2018 midterms, the president has moved quickly to undermine the greatest threat to his tenure in the White House: the Mueller probe.
Today, Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions (or "requested him to resign") and replaced him temporarily with former US attorney and CNN legal commentator Matthew Whittaker.
Trump's reasoning isn't particularly complicated here: he is an ardent critic of the Mueller probe and has argued that the investigation should be "limited" and reigned in by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (who, incidentally, should have replaced Sessions).
In an article for CNN last year, Whittaker argued that the probe should not be allowed to look into Trump's finances. "If he [Mueller] were to continue to investigate the financial relationships without a broadened scope in his appointment, then this would raise serious concerns that the special counsel's investigation was a mere witch hunt," wrote Whittaker.
"If Mueller is indeed going down this path, Rosenstein should act to ensure the investigation is within its jurisdiction and within the authority of the original directive."
Implying the probe is a "witch hunt" because Mueller wants to look at potential financial links between the president and Russia, Whittaker aligns himself with far right conspiracy theorists who believe, based on no evidence whatsoever, that Mueller has a political agenda.
Regardless of Sessions' political opinions (they are not exactly progressive), he has, much to the displeasure of the president, followed the law and allowed the Special Counsel to continue its investigation into the Trump campaign team's potential collusion with Russia. In his letter of resignation, Sessions wrote that he had worked to “support the fundamental legal processes that are the foundation of justice,” a parting shot aimed squarely at Trump and his consistent attempts to undermine the law.
What does this mean?
Trump's rapid move to fire Sessions is a sign of what is to come. With the House under Democratic control, he is clearly extremely worried about what the Mueller probe has on him and is acting to undermine it at almost any cost. Trump has been firing off threatening tweets to Democrats in the wake of the midterm results, claiming he will use the Senate to investigate the House if Democrats want to "play that game":
(Note: Trump appears to be unaware that the Senate cannot investigate the House).
Along with his usual bluster, Trump has also implied that he would work with Democrats on other issues, a pledge he has made before but failed to follow through on.
What is now abundantly clear is that we are now about to enter a period of extreme partisanship and a series of political dogfights that will determine the trajectory of American democracy for many years to come. Trump appears to be relishing the fight, and so are the Democrats. This time, however, the Democrats have real power to fight back.
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