Nov 8, 2018

4. 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.

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Sign of the times: A pro-Warren super PAC

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a rally in Nevada. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A group of women progressives who back Sen. Elizabeth Warren has formed Persist PAC, a super PAC airing pro-Warren ads starting Wednesday in an effort to boost her performance ahead of Saturday's crucial Nevada caucuses, a spokesman told Axios.

Why it matters: Warren has spoken adamantly against the influence of unlimited spending and dark money in politics. But these supporters have concluded that before Warren can reform the system, she must win under the rules that exist — and that whether she likes it or not, their uncoordinated help may be needed to keep her viable through this weekend's contest and into South Carolina and Super Tuesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Pentagon policy chief resigns amid reported discord with Trump

John Rood. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

John Rood, the Pentagon's top policy official, will resign from his post at the end of the month, CNN first reported and President Trump confirmed.

The state of play: CNN said Rood "was perceived as not embracing some of the changes in policy the White House and senior Pentagon officials wanted," such as peace talks in Afghanistan with the Taliban and a decision to cut back on military exercises with South Korea as the president courted North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

Coronavirus cases rise, as warnings of global pandemic grow

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's NHC; Note: China refers to mainland China and the Diamond Princess is the cruise ship offshore Yokohama, Japan. Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

We may be "at the brink" of a global pandemic, warns a top U.S. public health official, as cases continue to spread despite containment efforts. Meanwhile, the global economy is being affected, including the tech manufacturing industry.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed more than 2,000 people and infected over 75,000 others, mostly in mainland China, where the National Health Commission announced 136 new deaths since Tuesday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health