Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions wanted to try to stay until the end of the week, but White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told him no. Kelly was very firm it had to be today, according to administration officials.
A White House spokesman declined to comment on the subject.
The resignation letter submitted by Sessions today is not the old resignation letter that the former attorney general previously offered and President Trump rejected, a source familiar with the matter tells CNN.
There is no secret meaning to the fact that the letter is undated, the source says, adding, things were simply moving fast.
President Donald Trump’s decision to fire his attorney general just one day after the midterm elections appears to have surprised some White House staff, despite the widespread understanding among Trump’s aides that the move would occur relatively soon after the midterms.
“It definitely caught a lot of us off guard today,” said one White House official.
The swift removal of Sessions came just hours after the President sparred with the media as he tried to put a positive spin on his party’s loss of more than two dozen House seats. Cable news coverage quickly shifted from Republican defeats to Sessions’ firing.
“There goes the midterms news cycle,” one Trump ally said when asked about the timing of the ouster.
A White House aide noted that with so few days left on the legislative calendar this year and so much other business to wrap up, the confirmation process for whoever replaces Sessions permanently very likely won’t get started until next year — when Republicans will have an expanded majority to ease the path for the next attorney general.
House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff tweeted Wednesday afternoon following Attorney General Jeff Sessions' resignation.
Read his tweet:
"President Trump just removed Jeff Sessions. He wants an Attorney General to serve his interest, not the public. Mueller's investigation and the independence of the DOJ must be protected.
Whitaker and any nominee must commit to doing both. We will protect the rule of law."
Justice Department employees have not yet been officially notified of Jeff Sessions’ ouster, nor of Whitaker being named acting attorney general, sources within the Justice Department tell CNN.
Department employees, including US attorneys, are learning about Sessions' firing from news reports and President Donald Trump's tweets, according to sources within the department.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to recuse himself from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into potential Russian collusion.
"It is impossible to read Attorney General Sessions’ firing as anything other than another blatant attempt by @realDonaldTrump to undermine & end Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation," Pelosi tweeted Wednesday.
“Given his record of threats to undermine & weaken the Russia investigation,” Pelosi tweeted Wednesday, “Matthew Whitaker should recuse himself from any involvement in Mueller’s investigation. Congress must take immediate action to protect the rule of law and integrity of the investigation.”
Matthew Whitaker, who is replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is now in charge of all Department of Justice matters, the agency's spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said.
Why this matters: Whitaker is now in charge of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Whitaker's role could be reviewed by ethics officials. He could ultimately decide to recuse himself based on his past writings and comments related to the Russia probe on the advice of career ethics officials at the Justice Department.
Additionally, Whitaker doesn't need to be sworn in today because he took an oath when he became Sessions’ chief of staff, according to a Justice Department official.
Sen. Mark Warner, the Senate Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, urged lawmakers from all parties to support special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, following Attorney General Jeff Sessions' firing.
In a statement, Warner called on all lawmakers to "speak out now and deliver a clear message to the President that the special counsel’s investigation must continue without interference.”
“No one is above the law and any effort to interfere with the special counsel’s investigation would be a gross abuse of power by the President," the Virginia Democrat said. "While the President may have the authority to replace the Attorney General, this must not be the first step in an attempt to impede, obstruct or end the Mueller investigation."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell thanked Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service following his resignation on Wednesday.
“I thank Jeff Sessions for his dedicated service as Attorney General. Throughout his career, as a prosecutor, a Senator and as Attorney General, he remained steadfast in his commitment to the rule of law and his love of our great nation. I wish him well and look forward to working with him in any future endeavors," McConnell said.
Sessions previously served as a Republican senator from Alabama before joining the Trump administration.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is expected to be at the White House around 4 p.m. ET for a previously scheduled meeting, according to a Justice Department official.
Earlier this afternoon, Trump announced that Matthew Whitaker will take over as acting attorney general, the President said.
Whitaker is expected to take charge of the Russia investigation and special counsel Robert Mueller from Rosenstein.