Before the ink dried Wednesday on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ resignation letter, Washington was consumed with one question: Will his successor fire special counsel Robert Mueller?
Let us first note that Mr. Sessions deserved better than the public humiliations dealt by President Trump. As a Senator from Alabama, Jeff Sessions was the first Washington figure of any stature to embrace Mr. Trump’s candidacy. Mr. Trump wants loyalty up but not down.
Mr. Trump never forgave Mr. Sessions for recusing himself from supervising Mr. Mueller’s Russia collusion probe, though Mr. Trump forced the AG’s hand by threatening James Comey after firing him as FBI director. Mr. Trump does have a point that Mr. Sessions’ recusal compromised his leadership of the department and made it harder to exert supervision over the FBI.
Mr. Sessions’ temporary successor will be the AG’s chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, who presumably will hold the job until a successor is nominated. It is important that the White House get this one right.
The Attorney General shouldn’t fire Mr. Mueller, as the President essentially said himself at his Wednesday news conference. Mr. Trump needs an individual of stature and judgment who will have the trust of the department’s lawyers, who is capable of independence, but who also understands that the Justice Department is part of the executive branch and not a law unto itself.