Top Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, sounded the alarm after Attorney General Jeff Sessions' abrupt resignation on Wednesday, and demanded that Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker recuse himself from overseeing the inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.
“This is a break-the-glass moment," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement.
Sessions' departure, at President Trump's request, came less than two years after he angered Trump by recusing himself from the probe, and any involvement in the Justice Department's Russia investigations, after reports contradicted his claims that he had met with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign.
The president tweeted that Whitaker, who currently serves as chief of staff to Sessions, will become the acting attorney general. In that capacity, Whitaker is the head official at the Justice Department, and oversees the Mueller probe and the agency's other federal investigations.
Whitaker has previously written an op-ed in 2017 titled "The finances of Trump or his family are beyond Mueller's purview." In that op-ed, Whitaker argued that "any investigation into President Trump's finances or the finances of his family would require Mueller to return to Rod Rosenstein for additional authority under Mueller's appointment as special counsel."
Whiter continued, "If he were to continue to investigate the financial relationships without a broadened scope in his appointment, then this would raise serious concerns that the special counsel's investigation was a mere witch hunt."
Democrats united Wednesday to demand Whitaker's recusal, with some citing his previous writings and statements as supporting the notion that he will be improperly biased.
"Replacing the Attorney General with a non-Senate-confirmed political staffer is highly irregular and unacceptable," Blumenthal wrote. "Protecting the Special Counsel investigation is more urgent than ever. My Republican colleagues must rise to the challenge and show political backbone by demanding that Mr. Whitaker recuse himself from oversight of the Special Counsel’s investigation."
"This is a break the glass moment."— Sen. Richard Blumenethal, D-Conn.
He added: “I will be introducing legislation to ensure that Congress and the American people see the results of Special Counsel Mueller’s work. I implore my colleagues of both parties to unite behind efforts to ensure that the Special Counsel can continue this work without interference. Any attempt to limit his resources or the scope of his investigation is unacceptable. The world, and history, are watching.”
In another statement, Schumer, D-N.Y., demanded that Whitaker immediately follow Sessions' lead and abandon his role in the Russia probe.
“Given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation, Mr. Whitaker should recuse himself from its oversight for the duration of his time as acting attorney general," Sessions wrote.
And Nadler, who is poised to assume the powerful chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee when the new Democratic majority is seated in Congress in January, sought a fuller explanation from the White House.
"Americans must have answers immediately as to the reasoning behind @realDonaldTrump removing Jeff Sessions from @TheJusticeDept," Nadler wrote on Twitter. "Why is the President making this change and who has authority over Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation? We will be holding people accountable."
Sources told Fox News that Trump did not call Sessions, but rather White House Chief of Staff John Kelly informed him of the president’s request for him to resign. Sessions is expected to leave the Justice Department by the end of the day, and Whitaker was expected to be sworn in Wednesday.
In his resignation letter, Sessions said was “honored to serve” as attorney general and said his Justice Department “restored and upheld the rule of law – a glorious tradition that each of us has a responsibility to safeguard.”
Sessions' departure from the Justice Department is not unexpected, as the president has signaled changes to his administration after the midterms. But no one faced more rumors of an imminent dismissal than Sessions.
DOJ sources tell Fox News that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was headed to the White House for a previously scheduled and unrelated meeting at 4 p.m. ET.
Fox News' Alex Pappas, Jake Gibson, and Chad Pergram contributed to this report.