With the firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, President Trump promoted Sessions’ Chief of Staff Matthew Whitaker to the post. Whitaker will serve as the United States’ top lawyer on an interim basis until a permanent replacement is found and confirmed by the senate. He’ll also oversee Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Whitaker presiding over Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election, rather than Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, could potentially spell trouble for Mueller’s probe.
We are pleased to announce that Matthew G. Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States. He will serve our Country well….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2018
President Trump has tweeted numerous times about wanting to end the Russia investigation, calling it a “witch hunt” and recommending Sessions either fire the special counsel or end the investigation altogether. Sessions, however, recused himself from Mueller’s probe. This angered Trump, who referred to the former Alabama senator as “weak,” even saying he would have never hired him to the AG post in the first place had he known Sessions was going to recuse.
Whitaker, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern district of Iowa, served under Sessions as his Chief of Staff, Whitaker laid out a plan to defund the budget for the special counsel’s office during an interview with CNN last year, saying it would “reduce his budget to so low that his investigations grinds to almost a halt.”
Whitaker is also on record as saying he wants to narrow the scope of the inquiry and has been critical of Mueller and his investigative team during his tenure as a conservative legal commentator. Whitaker once wrote an op-ed for CNN, decrying the Russia probe as a “witch hunt” (Trump’s favored phrase for the investigation).
Meanwhile, Democrats — who are now the majority party in the House of Representatives after Tuesday night — have already warned Whitaker about interfering with Mueller. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and possible candidate for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) recommended Whitaker recuse himself from Mueller’s probe. Schumer also called for recusal due to “previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) — who will likely chair the House Judiciary Committee — suggested leaving Rosenstein in charge, adding it would be “wholly inappropriate” for Whitaker to take charge of the probe. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) said Sessions’ firing is a “break-the-glass” moment and that Whitaker taking over the Department of Justice without Senate confirmation is “highly irregular and unacceptable.”
Brandon Howard is a contributor for GritPost and former public radio reporter based out of Lexington, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @mrpowerhoward.