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Special Counsel Director Robert Mueller and President Trump. Photos: Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call, Saul LoebAFP/Getty Images

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ abrupt resignation on Wednesday at the request of President Trump immediately raised questions about the fate of special counsel Robert Mueller’s wide-ranging investigation into potential Russian collusion and ties to Trump's 2016 campaign.

Driving the news: President Trump has elevated Justice Department chief of staff Matthew Whitaker to acting attorney general until a permanent replacement is confirmed. Whitaker has questioned the scope of Mueller's investigation.

The details: The deputy attorney general traditionally assumes the acting role as the country’s top law enforcement official upon such a departure.

  • Rosenstein has been overseeing the special counsel’s investigation after Sessions recused himself due to his close ties with the Trump campaign.
  • However, Whitaker will now assume control of the investigation, according to a DOJ prosecutor.
  • He had questioned the scope of the Mueller probe, arguing in a CNN op-ed last year that the special counsel had gone too far in explaining the Trump family’s finances.
“This would raise serious concerns that the special counsel’s investigation was a mere witch hunt.”

The big picture: Rosenstein has largely been seen as a barrier protecting the Mueller investigation from Trump’s interference. As Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes of the Lawfare Blog explain, Rosenstein "has assiduously defended the Mueller investigation, even as the president has decried it as a ‘witch hunt,’ even as congressional committees have pressed for unprecedented document releases by way of discrediting it."

What's next: With Democrats fresh off a midterm campaign victory in taking control of the House, they will continue to express their frustrations over Whitaker's new role and the urgent need for congressional action to protect Mueller. They've already warned that Whitaker's previous remarks about Mueller suggest he is unfit to oversee the investigation.

Go deeper

In photos: Protests outside fortified capitols draw only small groups

Armed members of the far-right extremist group the Boogaloo Bois near the Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing on Jan. 17. About 20 protesters showed up, AP notes. Photo: Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

Small groups of protesters gathered outside fortified statehouses across the U.S. over the weekend ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The big picture: Some protests attracted armed members of far-right extremist groups but there were no reports of clashes, as had been feared. The National Guard and law enforcement outnumbered demonstrators, as security was heightened around the U.S. to avoid a repeat of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, per AP.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
7 hours ago - World

China's economy grows 6.5% in Q4 as country rebounds from coronavirus

A technician installs and checks service robots to be be used for food and medicine delivery in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, China, on Sunday. Photo: Hu Xuejun/VCG via Getty Images

China's economy grew at a 6.5% pace in the final quarter of 2020, the national statistics bureau announced Monday local time, topping off a year in which it grew in three of four quarters and by 2.3% in total.

Why it matters: No other major economy managed positive growth in 2020. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was first detected in China, the country got the virus under control and became one of the main positive drivers of the global economy even as the rest of the world was largely under lockdown.

8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations before leaving office

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump plans to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations on his final full day in office Tuesday, sources familiar with the matter told Axios.

Why it matters: This is a continuation of the president's controversial December spree that saw full pardons granted to more than two dozen people — including former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, longtime associate Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

  • The pardons set to be issued before Trump exits the White House will be a mix of criminal justice ones and pardons for people connected to the president, the sources said.
  • CNN first reported this news.

Go deeper: Convicts turn to D.C. fixers for Trump pardons