Less than 48 hours after Donald Trump forced out Jeff Sessions and elevated Matthew Whitaker to Acting Attorney General, Vox reported that (apparently unbeknownst to Sessions and his deputy Rod Rosenstein), Whitaker at one point privately counseled the President on how he might go about compelling the Justice Department to investigate political rivals including Hillary Clinton.
If true, that would have amounted to Whitaker playing double agent. “During this period of time, Whitaker was the chief of staff to Sessions, and in that role was advising Sessions and Rosenstein on how to counter the president, but according to one former and one current administration official, Whitaker was simultaneously counseling the White House on how the president and his aides might successfully pressure Sessions and Rosenstein to give in to Trump’s demands”, VOX wrote, adding that while Whitaker told Sessions and Rosenstein he supported their efforts to keep the DoJ free from political influence, he sang a different song when consulting with the White House.
If you know Whitaker’s history, that comes as no surprise. In July of 2016, he wrote an Op-Ed for USA Today called “I would indict Hillary Clinton.” In May of 2017, he wrote an Op-Ed for The Hill called “James Comey served faithfully, but the president made the right decision“. In June of 2017, Whitaker told WMAL radio that Trump did not obstruct justice by firing Comey. Two months later, Whitaker penned an Op-Ed for CNN called “Mueller’s investigation of Trump is going too far“. And on and on.
We’ve documented all of this extensively here over the past couple of weeks, a time period that has seen all manner of hand-wringing over whether Whitaker should be compelled to recuse himself from the Mueller probe in light of his history of public comments that clearly suggest he cannot be an impartial supervisor to the special counsel.
Well, according to a bombshell piece out in The New York Times on Tuesday evening, Trump attempted to convince Don McGahn to pressure the DoJ into prosecuting Clinton and Comey.
McGahn of course left the White House on October 17, and while his exit was telegraphed as far back as March, you’re reminded that his official departure came hot on the heels of reports that he “cooperated extensively” with Robert Mueller on the assumption that Trump and the President’s other lawyers were trying to set him (McGahn) up to take the fall for obstruction.
McGahn is known to have pushed back against previous efforts on Trump’s part to overreach and it sounds like the same thing happened when the President attempted to compel the Justice Department to go after Clinton and Comey.
“McGahn rebuffed the president, saying that he had no authority to order a prosecution [adding] that while he could request an investigation, that too could prompt accusations of abuse of power”, the Times writes, before contending that McGahn “had White House lawyers write a memo for Trump warning that if he asked law enforcement to investigate his rivals, he could face a range of consequences, including possible impeachment.”
It isn’t clear whether Trump ever actually reviewed the memo, nor is it clear if he pushed the issue any further, but either way, the Times notes that “the encounter was one of the most blatant examples yet of how Trump views the typically independent Justice Department as a tool to be wielded against his political enemies.”
“In his conversation with McGahn, the president asked what stopped him from ordering the Justice Department to investigate Comey and Clinton”, two people told the Times. McGahn responded by saying that while the President “did have the authority to ask the Justice Department to investigate, [he] warned that making such a request could create a series of problems.”
The Times goes on to say that Trump is frustrated at FBI Director Christopher Wray for being “weak”. Sources say the President is irritated that Wray hasn’t gone after Clinton in connection with the infamous “uranium” red herring.
So, if you have any doubt as to whether it’s a good idea to let Matthew Whitaker remain in his new role as Acting Attorney General, there’s your answer. All Trump needs is an accomplice at the helm of the DoJ, and now he’s got one.
Of course to let Trump tell it, he had no idea about Whitaker’s enmity towards Mueller and Clinton when he appointed him to replace Sessions…