News Briefs

Jeff Session resigns

On Nov. 7, 2018, President Trump forced Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign from his role, which he had held since Feb. 8, 2017. Sessions has been replaced by Matthew Whitaker, his chief of staff since Sept. 2017 and a Trump supporter.

Sessions’ forced resignation was not shocking, as Trump expressed his anger following Sessions’ recusal from the investigation of Russia’s alleged role in influencing the 2016 presidential election. In the months leading up to Sessions’ resignation, Trump had expressed his displeasure toward Sessions, calling him a “beleaguering” attorney general in a tweet from July (USA Today, Jeff Sessions is out as Attorney General: Here’s what we know,” 11.07.2018).

In his resignation letter, Sessions wrote, “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” (New York Times, “Jeff Sessions Is Forced Out as Attorney General as Trump Installs Loyalist,” 11.07.2018).

Sessions was an early Trump supporter in his role as a senator from Alabama, helping Trump form his agenda and acting as his campaign foreign policy advisor. Trump subsequently nominated Sessions for the role of Attorney General, and Sessions was sworn in on Feb. 8, 2017. Their relationship became strained after it was revealed that Sessions had met with then–Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak while working with the Trump campaign, even though Sessions had announced under oath that he had never had contact with Russian officials. Following this revelation, Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russia’s possible interference in the 2016 election.

Trump was reportedly “furious” at the recusal (Intelligencer, “The Complete History of President Trump’s Feud with Jeff Sessions,” 11.07.2018). “Sessions should have never recused himself and if he was going to recuse himself he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Trump told The New York Times (CNN, “Sessions out as Attorney General,” 11.07.2018).

Whitaker, Sessions’ successor, is an Iowa native who began his career as a federal prosecutor. He served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa under the Bush administration and, most recently, as Chief of Staff under Sessions before being promoted to Attorney General (New York Times, “Matthew Whitaker: An Attack Dog With Ambition Beyond Protecting Trump,” 11.09.2018).

Whitaker will now lead the investigation into Russia, and White House aides have predicted that he will defend Trump in the investigation. According to The New York Times, “Mr. Whitaker will rein in any report summarizing Mr. Mueller’s investigation and will not allow the president to be subpoenaed.” Reports say that Trump chose Whitaker because he hopes that Whitaker will calm Mueller’s Russia investigation (New York Times“Matthew Whitaker: An Attack Dog”).

Three wildfires ravage California

Wildfires have been burning throughout California, destroying homes, forests and lives. As of Nov. 14, there are three active fires. The most destructive, the Camp Fire, started in Butte County and has spread to the town of Paradise, CA. So far, the Camp Fire has forced 250,000 people to evacuate their homes and has destroyed 109,000 acres of Northern California. The Camp Fire is the worst fire in the history of the state and the third deadliest, with a death toll of at least 48 and 110 missing by the print date.

The other two fires, Woolsey and Hill, have destroyed 157 buildings in total. The Camp Fire is 25 percent contained as of Nov. 13, Woolsey is 10 percent contained and Hill is 70 percent contained (CNN, “It’s not over yet, high winds threaten progress made fighting California fires,” 11.11.2018).

As of print, at least 6,700 buildings have been affected by these fires. People are continuing to evacuate because of high winds, which cause the fire to spread. Currently, there is a slight break in the winds, but they are expected to start back up again.

According to Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen, “Mother Nature has given us a short reprieve…but we know tomorrow Mother Nature’s gonna turn her fan back on and the winds are going to start blowing” (CNN, “Death toll rises to 23 in California’s Camp Fire,” 11.10.2018).

Trump recently caused controversy when he tweeted, “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!” (Twitter, [at]realDonaldTrump, 11.10.2018).

Many took issue with these comments, which blamed the residents of California for causing the fires. President of the International Association of Fire Fighters Harold Schaitberger said in response, “His comments are reckless and insulting to the firefighters and people being affected” (CNN, “Trump’s tweet on wildfires angers firefighters, celebrities,” 11.11.2018).

This is not the first time California has suffered from wildfires. The year 2017 saw the most destructive wildfire season in the state known to date: Over 9,000 fires were responsible for the death of 47 people, including two firefighters, and more than 18 billion dollars in damages. The 2017 fires burned 505,900 acres of land.

Not only did the wildfires destroy thousands of homes, buildings and lives, but they also affected the air quality. According to CNN, air quality officials stated, “[These fires caused] unprecedented levels of air pollution in the Bay Area.” Air quality is determined to be harmful when the air quality index (AQI) level surpasses 201; during the 2017 fires, a level of 486 was recorded in Napa (CNN, “The wildfires in California just keep shattering records this year,” 12.26.2018).

The three fires currently raging in Northern and Southern California are ongoing, as are search and rescue efforts and evacuation orders.

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