UPDATE (Nov. 7, 2018): Trump ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday. Read more about his resignation here.
New speculation that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will leave Donald Trump's administration after the midterm elections raises the stakes about the fate of the Russia investigation. Indeed, reports that women were being approached to falsely accuse Robert Mueller of sexual misconduct suggest the campaign against the special counsel is already ramping up.
This week, the Associated Press reported that Sessions’ allies are hoping that the White House permits a graceful exit from the Department of Justice, indicating that they believe that his departure is inevitable. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s days also may be numbered.
Meanwhile, and despite the most recent allegations, Mueller quietly continues his investigation into any coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. Bloomberg recently reported that Mueller is ready to announce key findings as soon as the midterm elections are over. These findings wouldn’t automatically be made public, however — the initial recipient of Mueller’s report would be Rosenstein, who has been supervising the investigation following the recusal of Sessions. If Rosenstein is fired, this duty would fall to his replacement.
If Sessions were replaced, his successor presumably would not be recused and would be the recipient of Mueller’s report instead of Rosenstein.
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If Sessions were replaced, his successor presumably would not be recused and would thus be the recipient of Mueller’s report instead of Rosenstein. What would this new attorney general do with such a report? Can we trust him to make the report public?
Sunlight, they say, is the best disinfectant. Which is why exposing wrongdoing to the public is the best way to hold public officials accountable.
In a rare but welcome bipartisan effort earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation that would, among other protections, require the special counsel to submit a final report of his investigation to Congress. We applaud this and also believe Congress can improve the legislation by mandating that the final report — or as complete an unclassified version as possible — be made available to the public so the American people can get a full picture of what did or did not occur.
U.S. intelligence agencies are united in their assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an attack on U.S. elections in 2016, but the details of how the Kremlin was involved are still being uncovered. We spent most of our careers as federal prosecutors and know that the best way to get to the truth is exactly what Mueller is doing now: following the facts, interviewing every person with information, methodically reviewing the evidence and turn over every rock to make sure there is a complete accounting of what happened.
On the other hand, Trump has repeatedly and publicly tried to undermine and obstruct the investigation. He has waged an unrestrained public relations war against, at times, Sessions, Mueller and Rosenstein as well as FBI agents and the Department of Justice more generally. Mueller’s ability to follow the facts depends on the White House and the Department of Justice to provide him with the financial and prosecutorial resources necessary to finish the job.
In the face of these attacks, Mueller and Rosenstein have worked tirelessly to keep the investigation on track. Indeed, Mueller’s prosecutions have succeeded in large part because of Rosenstein's commitment to the special counsel's work; the deputy attorney general has provided the special counsel with the necessary room to follow the facts.
The midterm elections represent an important line in the sand. As the Bloomberg report noted, it’s likely that Mueller is waiting until immediately following the elections to release his report, in order to prevent influencing voters. Thus, the real threat to Mueller will likely come later in November.
If Trump does attempt to purge the Justice Department, whoever the president appoints to serve as attorney general will wield enormous influence over the scope of the Mueller investigation. While regulations require Mueller to be fired only for good cause, a new attorney general could severely limit or undermine the investigation by withholding approval of case decisions and investigative resources in ways that would be invisible to Congress and the public.
A new attorney general could severely limit or undermine the investigation by withholding approval of case decisions and investigative resources.
In the end, Congress cannot leave something as important as the special counsel’s investigation unprotected. Given Trump’s fickle nature, he very well could decide to initiate a sort of modern Saturday Night Massacre as President Richard Nixon did during Watergate.
To prevent the White House from such manipulations, Congress must require that the special counsel’s final report be made public. For the health of our country and to restore faith in our democracy the full truth about Russia’s attacks must be revealed. It’s up to members of both parties in the House and the Senate to adhere to a distinctly American principle: Nobody is above the law, not even the president.
Shining a light on the conduct of public officials is the best way to keep government clean.