Trump’s inability to let almost sleeping dogs lie has kicked off yet another political firestorm.
As you almost certainly know, Jeff Sessions, long a Trump punching bag, resigned Wednesday at Trump’s request. Trump skipped what would be the logical path of succession, that of elevating Rod Rosenstein to be acting Attorney General, and instead installed Matthew Whitaker, who had been Sessions’ chief of staff. The Wall Street Journal reports that Whitaker would oversee Robert Mueller’s investigation of Kremlin influence on the Trump campaign, unless Department of Justice ethics officials decide Whitaker needs to recuse himself. Whitaker has been a vocal critic of the Mueller investigation, arguing that it could be curtailed to prevent it from becoming a “fishing expedition.” More detail from the Journal:
In August 2017, after FBI agents raided former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s home, Mr. Whitaker tweeted: “Do we want our Gov’t to ‘intimidate’ us?” and linked to a Fox News story that said the raid was “designed to intimidate.” The same month, he tweeted a Philly.com column titled “Note to Trump’s lawyer: Do not cooperate with Mueller lynch mob,” and added: “Worth a read.”
In July 2017, Mr. Whitaker played down the notion that there was anything improper in a meeting at Trump Tower between Trump campaign officials and Russian individuals. “You would always take that meeting,” Mr. Whitaker said on CNN. He also told the network that if Mr. Sessions were replaced with an acting attorney general, he could imagine a scenario in which that person reduced Mr. Mueller’s budget “so low that his investigations grinds to almost a halt.”
Bloomberg argues that if Trump indeed fired Sessions out, Mueller could challenge the installation of Whitaker:
But Mueller could argue in court that Trump effectively fired Sessions after months of verbal abuse, a legal concept known as a constructive discharge, said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor who is a frequent Trump critic.
Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Trump can appoint an acting official without Senate confirmation if he replaces someone who has been incapacitated or resigned. It doesn’t apply if the previous official was fired. Sessions began his resignation letter by saying he was leaving at Trump’s request.
The Journal stated that Trump chief of staff John Kelly asked Sessions for a resignation letter on Wednesday. Sessions submitted an undated document. That sure doesn’t sound voluntary. However, Bloomberg also said that legal scholars said it would be hard to oust Whitaker from a post he would hold for only seven months.1
We’re left again with the usual, “What was Trump thinking?” He’d pretty much won the RussiaRussia controversy. Democrats dropped that a while back as a talking point for the midterms, which were widely seen as a referendum on Trump. The wisdom of that decision was confirmed by this article, flagged by Lamber: Exit Polls: Majority Say Russia Probe ‘Politically Motivated’. Vox had pointed out last May that the Mueller findings could well be buried. Bob Woodward admitted he’d looked for two years for evidence of a connection and had come up empty-handed. The Muller investigation has retreated from the public eye and some media outlets have been managing down expectations for it.
But with the easily-provoked Trump, it repeatedly looked like Trump would give Mueller his win by engaging in obstruction of justice. Installing the pugnacious Whitaker as Mueller’s minder puts the probe back in the spotlight. It creates the impression that Trump sees it as a live threat. And the Democrats will use this high-handed move to provide further support for what they intended to do anyhow, which is to use their control of House committees to go full proctological on Trump.
So the day after the election, and Trump gives the Democrats a new target to shoot at. November 2020 looks like an awfully long way away.
1 Whitaker looks either to have poor judgment or not to mind being associated with scam artists, which might explain his willingness to be a part of Team Trump. From the Guardian (hat tip allan):
Donald Trump’s new acting attorney general was part of a company accused by the US government of running a multimillion-dollar scam.
Matthew Whitaker was paid to sit on the advisory board of World Patent Marketing, which was ordered in May this year to pay a $26m settlement following legal action by federal authorities, which said it tricked aspiring inventors….