CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the United States is “on the verge” of a constitutional crisis following the forced resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“I think it’s a big mistake to let Jeff Sessions go,” Manchin said Thursday on “CBS This Morning.”
“I understand the Mueller investigation is wrapping up. You ought to have a team in place to wrap it up, so there’s no questions.”
Sessions submitted a letter of resignation Wednesday at President Donald Trump’s request. Sessions, one of the first people to endorse Trump in the 2016 presidential election, recused himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference into the 2016 election and possible links to the president. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein oversaw the investigation in Sessions’ place.
Manchin was the only Democrat to vote for confirming Sessions in February 2017.
“I knew the rule of law meant everything to Jeff. I knew that, and I think he stuck with that,” he said. “He was much more to the right than many people are — than I was — but he’s just a good man, and he was grounded.”
Trump selected Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, to lead the Department of Justice as acting attorney general.
Whitaker has been critical of the Russia investigation; he wrote in an August 2017 op-ed for CNN that Muller was close to crossing a red line by looking at the president’s financial records.
“What raises my concerns is a person has been so vocal against the investigation that is going on now being put in charge a day after the election,” Manchin said. “I think that sheds a bad light on it. I think that gives concern to every senator — Democrat and Republican. We are a country (where) the rule of law is everything. It’s how we gage ourselves. It’s how we govern ourselves. Looking like it’s all been tilted one way or another is wrong.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., tweeted he and Delaware Sen. Chris Coons will ask next week to vote on legislation regarding the removal of the special counsel. If the legislation is passed, only the attorney general or most senior Senate-confirmed Justice Department official may remove the special counsel provided a reason for removal.
“After the firing of The AG, it is more important than ever to protect the Special Counsel,” Flake said.
Manchin said he hopes the Senate will consider the legislation once the chamber convenes on Tuesday.
“I think the president would want that; to let this thing come out to the end and see what’s there,” Manchin said. “He’s said — quite frankly, many, many times — there’s no collusion, there’s nothing involved. We’ll be able to see that.”
Protests took place across the country Thursday in light of Sessions’ removal; progressive advocacy group MoveOn prepared for the rallies in the event of Mueller being fired.
Around 30 protesters gathered at the state Capitol complex in Charleston in support of Mueller.
“We, the people, are the ultimate power in a democracy. Donald Trump can’t take that away from us, no matter how hard he tries,” said Greg Chiartas of Charleston.
“It will be we, the people, that hold him accountable for his abuses of power and his corruption. And it’s we, the people, that must stand up to his latest attempt to protect himself, his family and his indicted associates from being held accountable.”
Rita Fisher, who lives in Charleston, said the Mueller probe needs to continue uninterrupted.
“I honestly would believe the Republican side of this would want that, as well,” she said. “Without that, then we are at a constitutional crisis.”
Fisher said she hopes lawmakers, especially Manchin, work to protect Mueller.
“I think at the end of the day he will,” she said. “I think his primary concern is West Virginia and fulfilling his duties in the Senate. I have a lot of respect with him for that, so we’ll see.”
A similar protest was held in Huntington.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., released the following statement Thursday evening:
“I had the chance to serve in the Senate with Jeff Sessions for two years, and I think he did a good job in his role as Attorney General. At the same time, Cabinet members serve at the pleasure of the president, so I leave those decisions to him to decide. I look forward to seeing who President Trump puts forward.”