The Latest: Flake, Coons seek vote on bill to shield Mueller

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on Jeff Sessions’ departure as attorney general (all times local):

5:05 p.m.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons will try to force a vote next week on legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller.

Flake announced the move Thursday, a day after President Donald Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him with loyal ally Matt Whitaker. Whitaker is expected to oversee Mueller’s investigation into potential coordination between Trump’s 2016 Republican campaign and Russia.

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Trump has called the investigation a “witch hunt.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill in April. It would give special counsels a 10-day window to seek review of a firing.

The senators will ask for consent to vote on the bill, but any senator can object.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi scheduled a call Thursday for Democrats to discuss their response.

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1:20 p.m.

In a goodbye message to staff, Jeff Sessions says his time serving as President Donald Trump’s attorney general “goes beyond anything I ever would have thought possible.”

Sessions sent the message to Justice Department workers on Thursday, a day after he resigned at Trump’s request.

Sessions says he was proud to run the department and to work to reduce violent crime and overdose deaths. He’s also citing the department’s increased prosecutions for weapons and immigration offenses.

Sessions writes that it was “an incredible honor to work with people who day after day and year after year consistently exceeded expectations.”

Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, has been named as acting attorney general.

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10:05 a.m.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway says the exit of Attorney General Jeff Sessions is “not a constitutional crisis.”

Sessions’ former chief of staff, Matt Whitaker, is now acting attorney general and has authority to oversee the remainder of the Russia probe.

Conway spoke to reporters at the White House on Thursday.

Conway was asked if President Donald Trump had instructed Whitaker to limit the Russia investigation and said the “president hasn’t instructed him to do anything” beyond serve as acting attorney general.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (ROH’-zen-styn) previously oversaw the probe. Conway says Rosenstein was at the White House on Wednesday for a regularly scheduled meeting and was expected back for another such meeting on Thursday.

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7:05 a.m.

The Kremlin has called the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election a “headache” for U.S. authorities but has declined to comment on the departure of Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the comments Thursday after Sessions handed in his resignation. Sessions’ departure has potentially ominous implications for special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe given that the new acting attorney general has questioned the inquiry’s scope.

Peskov says Sessions’ departure isn’t something for the Kremlin to weigh in on.

Peskov says the inquiry is “a headache for our American counterparts — it has nothing to do with us.” He argues Mueller’s team hasn’t “managed to produce anything that can withstand serious criticism.”

Mueller’s team has obtained several guilty pleas and a jury conviction and has indictments pending against Russian companies.

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12:25 a.m.

Jeff Sessions’ departure as attorney general is raising questions about the fate of the special counsel’s Russia probe.

President Donald Trump asked for Sessions’ resignation and then replaced the former Alabama senator with Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker.

Whitaker is a former U.S. attorney from Iowa who founded a law firm with other Republican Party activists. He has questioned the Russia probe’s scope and spoken publicly before joining the Justice Department about ways an attorney general could theoretically stymie the investigation.

Congressional Democrats have already called on Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation. So far that has been the job of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed special counsel Robert Mueller.

The ongoing investigation has produced guilty pleas from four former Trump aides.

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