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Trump has no shortage of candidates to follow Sessions

John T. Bennett, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- There is no shortage of candidates to replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general, and President Donald Trump could even again turn to the Senate.

Sessions and Trump clashed almost from the start, with the president even admitting he gave the former Alabama lawmaker the job out of a sense of loyalty. Sessions was the first GOP senator to endorse Trump's 2016 White House candidacy. As Democrats warn of a constitutional crisis, the president will get to pick a nominee this time for other reasons.

The president has made clear he wants the attorney general to protect him, which experts and Democratic lawmakers say is at odds with the role of the country's top lawyer. But with Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III continuing his Russia election probe, Trump almost certainly will demand his pick be more hands-on with that probe and also view it with the same skepticism he does.

Trump is promising to announce a nominee "at a later date." Here are some possible replacements.

Matthew Whitaker

The 49-year-old had been Sessions' chief of staff. He also is a former U.S. attorney in Iowa, and once sought political office as a GOP candidate. Iowa is important to Trump's 2020 re-election plans. And another politician likely would be attractive, since the president has no qualms about using his Justice Department for his own political purposes.

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Whitaker also has been highly critical of the Mueller probe, though that could hinder a potential nomination with a few moderate Republican senators who support allowing the special counsel to finish his work. "It does not take a lawyer or even a former federal prosecutor like myself to conclude that investigating Donald Trump's finances or his family's finances falls completely outside of the realm of his 2016 campaign and allegations that the campaign coordinated with the Russian government or anyone else," he wrote in a 2017 CNN op-ed.

Rod Rosenstein

Social media was abuzz Wednesday afternoon that the deputy attorney general would be next as Trump zeroes in on the Mueller probe, which he again Wednesday said should be ended soon because "there was no collusion" between his 2016 campaign and Russians. Trump and Rosenstein have publicly butted heads, and the president has also criticized his handling of the Mueller investigation.

But, notably, the two recently mended fences during an Air Force One chat. And days before that, White House chief of staff John Kelly appeared to deliver a vote of confidence in Rosenstein when he purposely walked him to his vehicle following a meeting -- making sure television cameras got a shot of them together. And Trump has since said the two have a "good relationship." Also notable: Like Sessions, Rosenstein has been an architect of the Trump Justice Department's agenda. And he's already been confirmed by the Senate, where he is respected by members of both parties.

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