Newly named acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker came under an intense amount of heat last week, as politicos reacted to the forced resignation of his former boss, Jeff Sessions.
Sessions was an obedient lackey to Donald Trump from early in his candidacy, and also through the first two years of his presidency, except on a single issue –
The Russia probe.
Sessions recused himself in the early months of 2017, after it was discovered that he had his own communications with Russian officials during the lead up to the 2016 election. Whether he did anything wrong or not, he didn’t bother to mention those communications while going through his confirmation process, and the optics, given everything else surrounding Trump’s team, were just ugly.
His recusal opened the door for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint special counsel Robert Mueller, a move that infuriated the new president, and he has used Sessions as a punching bag, ever since. No amount of acquiescence on any other issue would appease the petulant man-baby in the Oval Office.
As I’ve mentioned before, on the one hand, I have little to no sympathy for Sessions. He signed on for it. On the other hand, however, he tried to remain diligent and upright in his duties as attorney general. He just didn’t realize he was a small fish swimming in a festering cesspool of corruption and ignorance.
So, enter Whitaker, a man with little, to no real background that would make him top option to replace Sessions.
His sole qualification, by every indication, is that he has been openly critical of the Russia probe and Robert Mueller’s work, publicly mapping out a strategy to shut it down and kill the work currently being done to get to the bottom of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Donald Trump is vehemently opposed to his relationship with our nation’s greatest geopolitical foe being interrupted or made open to examination, and he will use the offices of his administration to meet that end.
Part of Whitaker’s plan to stop Robert Mueller has included limiting funding, which would slow the investigation down, considerably.
In a July 2017 interview on CNN, he said that Mueller didn’t have to be fired. He just had to have his budget cut so tight that the investigation would “grind to a halt.”
To date, the investigation has cost taxpayers about $16 million.
For comparison, taxpayers spent over $50 million on golfing trips for Trump in his first 13 months in office.
The instant outrage of appointing Whitaker as acting attorney general was enough to send President Trump into immediate lie mode, claiming he didn’t even know Whitaker.The reality is, he’s met Whitaker multiple times.
The outrage of Whitaker in the position of AG has also been enough to spark “Protect Mueller” protests in cities around the nation, and now Whitaker is backtracking on his previous position, regarding funding for the probe.
Whitaker’s telling associates he won’t follow that course now that he has the job, but will allow Mueller’s probe to continue. It’s unclear how close Mueller is to wrapping up his work as he faces growing calls from President Donald Trump and other Republicans to finish quickly.
The reports that have come out in recent days are that Mueller is preparing his final report, and that only a few loose ends remain.
One of those loose ends includes interviewing the president.
Trump’s legal team have been given written questions to answer, but discussion of an actual face-to-face meeting between Trump and Mueller has yet to be resolved.
It’s unclear to what degree Whitaker could shut off funds for Mueller. The special counsel’s budget for fiscal 2019 has already been approved by the Justice Department.
Mueller’s team is paid for under a permanent fund for investigations by independent counsels that was established in 1998, which means it’s not subject to Congress’s routine spending debates. Mueller’s budget isn’t affected by a current stopgap spending measure that expires on Dec. 9.
What we must recognize first is that it is unlikely either Trump or Whitaker knew that.
Whitaker is a Trump loyalist, not a policy expert.
Secondly, if it appears Whitaker is unable or unwilling to run the risk of acting against Mueller, there’s always the possibility Trump may do something on his own, out of desperation.
To date, he has stated that he has no intention of stopping the probe, but it can’t be missed that he forced out his first and most loyal supporter because of his unwillingness to act against the ongoing probe.
We’ll have to stay tuned.