Jeff Sessions has tendered his resignation, at the president’s request. Less than 24 hours after the 2018 midterms drew to a close, Donald Trump has forced his first attorney general out of his administration, clearing the way for a man who has publicly accused Robert Mueller of taking the Russia investigation “too far” — and mused that a new attorney general could thwart his probe by denying it funding — to become the Justice Department’s interim leader.
As a member of Trump’s 2016 campaign, Sessions was forced to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s investigation of ties between that campaign and the Russian government. The president has long decried Sessions for refusing to subordinate this ethical obligation to his (imaginary) duty to immunize the commander-in-chief from legal liabilities. But Matthew Whitaker has no conflict of interest in the Russia case. And although he will not (immediately) inherit direct supervision of the Mueller investigation, he will have the power to seal records, withhold funding, and disrupt the probe by other means — as Whitaker himself once explained in his capacity as a CNN talking head:
Appearing on CNN in July 2017 — before he was in his current position as Sessions’s chief of staff — Whitaker mused about a scenario in which Trump might fire Sessions and replace him with a temporary attorney general. Whitaker noted that federal regulations still gave the attorney general power over the budget for a special counsel. That temporary replacement, he then said, could move to choke off Mueller’s funding.
“So I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment,” Whitaker said, “and that attorney general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.”
Whitaker is a former U.S. Attorney and 2014 Senate candidate in Iowa who joined the Justice Department last fall. Here are a few other things that he has publicly claimed to believe:
• Robert Mueller has no legitimate authority to investigate the Trump Organization’s finances, and if he does (which, he has), “then this would raise serious concerns that the special counsel’s investigation was a mere witch hunt.”
• Donald Trump was right to fire James Comey — because James Comey should have prosecuted Hillary Clinton:
Comey’s announcement last July that he would not recommend prosecution of Hillary Clinton for violations of the Espionage Act were a shock to many in law enforcement both inside the FBI and out…[H]is pronouncement that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring such a case was just wrong, and I said so publicly at the time. I was a federal prosecutor for five years and was proud to serve in the Department of Justice, and I would’ve brought that case.
Clinton set up an entire secret, unsecured communications structure outside of the government she was charged with serving at the highest level; she was the Secretary of State. Classified information that, in the wrong hands, could potentially bring harm to our country – and many in service to our country — was available to be appropriated.
• All federal judges should be “people of faith” who take “a biblical view of justice.”
• There shouldn’t have been an independent counsel’s investigation into Russian interference because there wasn’t such an investigation into the Obama administration’s many scandals:
Calls for an independent counsel or commission to investigate allegations that Russia tried to interfere with our elections ring hollow when similar calls for special counsels during the scandals of the Obama administration were dismissed out of hand by the same people making these demands now.
So, clearly, Matthew Whitaker would make a sober, fair-minded, and trustworthy overseer of the Justice Department’s transformation into Donald J. Trump’s private detective agency.