'Torture memo' author John Yoo says Trump's attorney general appointment is illegal, will save Mueller's probe

Matt Whitaker.
(Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

If President Trump was trying to neuter Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into his campaign and Russia when he appointed Matthew Whitaker acting attorney general, he may have been "too clever by half," conservative law professor John Yoo writes at The Atlantic. Whitaker "cannot legally hold the office," thanks to the Constitution's Appointments Clause, and it's very unlikely this Supreme Court will uphold the White House's legal argument that his appointment is valid.

Yoo expressed a famously expansive view of presidential powers in his defunct "torture memo." But even Yoo has argued that Trump occassionally exceeds his presidential powers, and the Whitaker appointment is one of those times. Whitaker can try to shut down the Mueller investigation, an idea he's publicly advocated, but it won't stick, Yoo explains:

The White House may have thought it had cleverly figured out a way to curtail the investigation by appointing Whitaker, but it has instead virtually assured that Mueller will complete his job in his own good time. With questions surrounding the ethics and now the legality of his appointment, Whitaker will have little political capital to expend in defending any limits on Mueller. And even if Whitaker displays terrible judgment and makes the fateful choice to cut off the probe, Mueller now has the grounds to refuse to obey the orders of an unconstitutional attorney general. Trump's clever maneuvering has provided Mueller all the space he needs to finish his investigation and even hand over his files and concluding report to a Congress eager to launch impeachment proceedings. [John Yoo, The Atlantic]

"Trump critics should not find joy in such a result," Yoo cautioned, because "every action of the Justice Department might fall before challenges to Whitaker's appointment," including the prosecution of criminals. You can read Yoo's conservative legal case that Whitaker is an invalid attorney general, and his helpful suggestions for what Trump can and should do, at The Atlantic.

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