Whitaker: Fit to serve as attorney general?
Sorry, but “there is no way this man should be running the justice department,” said The Washington Post in an editorial. Within hours of last week’s midterm elections, President Trump forced the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and appointed Matt Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, to fill the position temporarily. To call Whitaker a “Trump loyalist” is a wild understatement. The weightlifting former college football player is an archconservative who charmed his way into the White House with a string of cable-news appearances in which he scoffed at Russian election interference, dismissed the very idea that a president can obstruct justice, and mused aloud about ways that a new attorney general might defund special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe so that “it grinds to almost a halt.” Trump and his family have a “direct, concrete interest” in the outcome of Mueller’s investigation, said Neal Katyal in WashingtonPost.com. The idea that the president could install an unqualified lackey to interfere with it is “fundamentally at odds with the most cardinal principle that no one is above the law.” Whitaker’s appointment is also unconstitutional. A specific congressional statute, the Attorney General Succession Act, requires the AG’s deputy—in this case Rod Rosenstein—to be his or her replacement until a new nominee is confirmed. Trump’s illegal “installation” of Whitaker “must be stopped.”
“Whitaker may be a bad choice” for attorney general, “but he’s a legal one,” said Stephen Vladeck in The New York Times. The Federal Vacancies Reform Act explicitly allows officers not confirmed by the Senate to serve if their term is less than 210 days. Besides, the “pearl clutching” over Whitaker’s appointment is based on a deliberate misinterpretation of his previous public comments, said Andrew McCarthy in NationalReview.com. What he actually said was that the Mueller investigation should “stay within the bounds” originally established—to determine if there was any U.S. cooperation with Russia’s attempt to interfere in the election. Let’s give Whitaker a chance to do his job.
Whitaker is worse than a partisan hack, said Erin Dunne in WashingtonExaminer.com. He might be “better labeled a scammer.” Before joining the Trump administration, Whitaker sat on the advisory board of World Patent Marketing, a Florida firm that charged inventors millions of dollars for nonexistent marketing services. Whitaker wrote to unhappy customers, identifying himself as a former U.S. attorney and warning of “serious civil and criminal consequences” if they complained publicly about the rip-offs. Trump hired this partisan pit bull for one reason, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. The president has repeatedly stated that he views the attorney general as his lawyer, whose primary job is to protect him, and he obviously expects Whitaker to do what Sessions wouldn’t: Shut the Russia investigation down. That makes Whitaker’s appointment “the most dire threat to the republic since Trump’s election itself.”
Whitaker “is no fool,” said David French in NationalReview.com. Although firing Mueller might delight Trump’s base, it would alarm “the broader American public” and add serious weight to the case for impeaching Trump for obstruction of justice. Whitaker isn’t going to take any actions that would trigger a political and constitutional crisis. Mueller’s probe is reportedly nearing completion, said Benjamin Wittes in TheAtlantic.com. So even if Whitaker did fire Mueller, House Democrats would simply invite him in January to share his findings in a public hearing. If Trump really did appoint Whitaker to protect him from Mueller, “it’s probably too late.” ■