Nov 8, 2018

What Sessions' resignation means for the Mueller investigation

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

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30 p.m. ET: 5,375,648 — Total deaths: 343,721 — Total recoveries — 2,149,412Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30 p.m. ET: 1,639,872 — Total deaths: 97,599 — Total recoveries: 361,239 — Total tested: 13,784,786Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 13 mins ago - Politics & Policy

White House announces new coronavirus travel restrictions on Brazil

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro with Trump, March 19, 2019. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool via Getty Images

The White House announced Sunday that President Trump would suspend entry of non-U.S. citizens who have been in Brazil in the past 14 days in an effort to stop the imported spread of the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Brazil has reported nearly 350,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus — the second-most in the world behind the U.S. — and has emerged as a Southern Hemisphere hotspot as other heavily affected countries in Asia and Europe have managed to get their outbreaks under control.

Trumpworld's plan to brand Biden

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Mandel Ngan/AFP

Trump's advisers relish the contrast between his public appearances and Joe Biden's lack thereof. The former vice president, following the guidance of public experts, has eschewed public events and stayed home for months now. Trump, meanwhile, is out and about — masks be damned.

What we're hearing: Watch for plenty more mask-free outings from Trump, hyping the reopening of the economy and avoiding discussions of social distancing and death counts.