WASHINGTON (AP) — The forced resignation of Jeff Sessions as attorney general has caused profound leadership changes at the Justice Department, above all affecting oversight of the investigation into ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.
A look at the responsibilities of the Justice Department’s top two leaders and the special counsel running the department’s most consequential and politically sensitive investigation.
The new acting attorney general, Whitaker will assume the duties and responsibilities fulfilled by Sessions. It’s a job he knows well given that Whitaker has spent the last year as Sessions’ chief of staff.
Whitaker is expected to assume oversight of Mueller’s Russia investigation, though congressional Democrats are calling on him to recuse himself because of comments he made before joining the Justice Department that were critical and skeptical of the probe.
Those include an opinion piece on CNN.com in which he said Mueller would be going too far, and straying beyond his mandate, if he were to investigate Trump’s family finances.
It’s not clear that Whitaker will need to step aside. Sessions recused himself in March 2017 because of his work on Trump’s campaign and following the revelation that he had met during the 2016 campaign with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
As deputy attorney general, Rosenstein is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Justice Department, including the activities of the country’s U.S. attorneys.
Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel after Sessions recused himself and after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey.
The No. 2 official remains in his position with most of the same duties as before, even though his own job status has appeared questionable at times. It’s possible he’ll still play a role in the Mueller investigation, but the Justice Department made clear Wednesday that Whitaker “is in charge of all matters under the purview of the Department of Justice.”
The former FBI director has been working with a team of prosecutors and agents for the last year and a half to investigate whether the Trump campaign illegally coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election, and whether Trump tried to obstruct that investigation.
The investigation has produced 32 criminal charges, including guilty pleas from four former Trump associates.
But the key collusion and obstruction questions that underpin the investigation remain unanswered, and a grand jury in Washington continues to hear evidence about Trump confidant Roger Stone. Mueller, who has been negotiating with Trump’s lawyers about interviewing the president, is expected to produce a written report to be sent to the Justice Department that explains its findings, though it’s not clear how much will be public.