Democrats in the House of Representatives have vowed to investigate Donald Trump’s removal of the attorney general, Jeff Sessions.
A day after the midterm elections, Sessions was fired and replaced with loyalist Matthew Whitaker.
The move handed Democrats who had just taken control of the House their first opportunity to go after Trump with investigations.
“The firing of Jeff Sessions will be investigated and people will be held accountable. This must begin immediately, and if not, then a Democratic Congress will make this a priority in January,” said congressman Jerrold Nadler, the likely incoming chair of the House judiciary committee.
At issue is the fate of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Sessions had recused himself from that inquiry, infuriating Trump.
Democrats and Republicans alike warned Mueller must be allowed to continue his work under the new attorney general.
“The firing of Jeff Sessions fits a clear pattern of interference from Donald Trump in the work of the Department of Justice and the ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by Robert Mueller,” Nadler said.
“There is no mistaking what this means, and what is at stake: this is a constitutionally perilous moment for our country and for the president. Donald Trump may think he has the power to hire and fire whomever he pleases, but he cannot take such action if it is determined that it is for the purposes of subverting the rule of law and obstructing justice. If he abuses his office in such a fashion, then there will be consequences.”
He and other Democrats said Whitaker – who has publicly criticized the Mueller investigation – should step aside and let the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, continue to oversee it.
“We are immediately issuing multiple letters to key officials demanding that they preserve all relevant documents related to this action to make sure that the investigation and any evidence remains safe from improper interference or destruction,” Nadler said.
Congressman Elijah Cummings, set to take over the House committee on oversight and government reform, also vowed an investigation into the firing.
“Congress must now investigate the real reason for this termination, confirm that Matthew Whitaker is recused from all aspects of the special counsel’s probe, and ensure that the Department of Justice safeguards the integrity of the Mueller investigation,” he said.
The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, who learned of Sessions’s dismissal while he was holding a press conference in Washington, warned of a “constitutional crisis” if the Mueller investigation is terminated.
“I find the timing very suspect,” Schumer said.
“Protecting Mueller and his investigation is paramount. It would create a constitutional crisis if this were a prelude to ending or greatly limiting the Mueller investigation, and I hope President Trump and those he listens to will refrain from that,” he told reporters.
Schumer later tweeted a call for Whitaker to recuse himself from supervising the special counsel’s investigation.