Updated 3:57 p.m.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, at the direction of the Trump administration, resigned as the United States’s top legal officer Wednesday, drawing to a close a rocky and controversial tenure that was often overshadowed by his complicated relationship with President Donald Trump.
“At your request, I am submitting my resignation,” Sessions said in a letter sent Wednesday to the White House. “Since the day I was honored to be sworn in as Attorney General of the United States, I came to work at the Department of Justice every day determined to do my duty and serve my country. I have done so to the best of my ability, working to support the fundamental legal processes that are the foundation of justice.”
Matthew Whitaker, who has served as Sessions’ chief of staff since October 2017, has been named to fill in as acting attorney general, President Donald Trump announced in a tweet Wednesday.
He added: “We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date.”
Sessions’s departure was expected to take place after Tuesday’s 2018 U.S. midterm elections. But Sessions’ resignation still came abruptly, with his letter coming not long after Trump in a Wednesday afternoon press conference declined to directly speak on Sessions’ status. Responding to a reporter’s question about Sessions’s and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein’s status on Wednesday, he said: “I’d rather answer that at a little bit different time.”
That tension between Trump and Sessions has overshadowed much of Sessions’ tenure as the country’s top law enforcement officer, where he has been at the helm of the Justice Department’s controversial crackdowns on border immigration and so-called sanctuary cities.
Throughout his tenure, Sessions—who came to his position after being the first U.S. senator to back Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016—often found himself at the center of Trump’s scorn, ridicule, and criticism. In March 2017, Sessions recused himself from handling any federal investigation into Russian interference efforts in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and any possible links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
“He should not have recused himself almost immediately after he took office. And if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have, quite simply, picked somebody else. So I think that’s a bad thing not for the President, but for the presidency,” Trump said in a July press conference at the White House.
Whitaker will supervise the special counsel’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“The Acting Attorney General is in charge of all matters under the purview of the Department of Justice,” DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said to a question about the future of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Read the Jeff Sessions resignation letter here: