The Latest: State AGs call on Whitaker to recuse himself

The Latest: State AGs call on Whitaker to recuse himself
FILE - In this March 27, 2017 file photo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pauses while speaking to members of the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. Sessions resigned Nov. 7, 2018. as the country's chief law enforcement officer after enduring more than a year of blistering and personal attacks from President Donald Trump over his recusal from the Russia investigation.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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

8 p.m.

A coalition of 18 state attorneys general has sent a letter to Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker calling on him to recuse himself from the special counsel's Russia probe.

In the letter dated Thursday, the AGs reference Whitaker's "widely-circulated public comments criticizing Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election."

Whitaker replaced Jeff Sessions, who was forced out Wednesday.

FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump shakes hands with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, accompanied by his wife Mary, after he was sworn-in by Vice President Mike Pence, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. On Nov. 7, 2018, Sessions submitted his resignation in letter to Trump. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump shakes hands with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, accompanied by his wife Mary, after he was sworn-in by Vice President Mike Pence, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. On Nov. 7, 2018, Sessions submitted his resignation in letter to Trump. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File) (AP)

The AGs say Whitaker's recusal is "necessary to maintain the public trust in the integrity of the investigation."

They say Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should "continue to supervise" the Mueller probe.

The letter was signed by the attorneys general of Massachusetts, New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia.

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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.

Trump has called the investigation a "witch hunt."

Counselor to President Donald Trump Kellyanne Conway, is interviewed on television at the White House's North Lawn in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Counselor to President Donald Trump Kellyanne Conway, is interviewed on television at the White House's North Lawn in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) (AP)

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.

FILE - In this July 20, 2017 file photo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions accompanied by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, speaks at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington. Sessions resigned Nov. 7, 2018. as the country's chief law enforcement officer after enduring more than a year of blistering and personal attacks from President Donald Trump over his recusal from the Russia investigation. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
FILE - In this July 20, 2017 file photo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions accompanied by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, speaks at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington. Sessions resigned Nov. 7, 2018. as the country's chief law enforcement officer after enduring more than a year of blistering and personal attacks from President Donald Trump over his recusal from the Russia investigation. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (AP)

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.

A copy of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' resignation letter is photographed in Washington on an image of the exterior of the Justice Department Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)
A copy of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' resignation letter is photographed in Washington on an image of the exterior of the Justice Department Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/J. David Ake) (AP)

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.

FILE - In this April 24, 2014, file photo, then-Iowa Republican senatorial candidate and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker watches before a live televised debate in Johnston, Iowa. President Donald Trump announced in a tweet that he was naming Whitaker, as acting attorney general, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pushed out Nov. 7, 2018, as the country's chief law enforcement officer after enduring more than a year of blistering and personal attacks from Trump over his recusal from the Russia investigation. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
FILE - In this April 24, 2014, file photo, then-Iowa Republican senatorial candidate and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker watches before a live televised debate in Johnston, Iowa. President Donald Trump announced in a tweet that he was naming Whitaker, as acting attorney general, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pushed out Nov. 7, 2018, as the country's chief law enforcement officer after enduring more than a year of blistering and personal attacks from Trump over his recusal from the Russia investigation. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File) (AP)

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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.