One thing that often gets lost in the fog of Donald Trump’s war against the multiple investigations into his campaign, business dealings and associates is that this president is engaged in what amounts to a perpetual effort to obstruct justice.
The American public has become so numb to his Twitter balderdash that we tend to lose track of the fact that when the President of the United States issues threats on social media or otherwise attempts to malign and bully both the people investigating him and potential witnesses to those investigations, that’s tantamount to obstruction and it also smacks of witness tampering.
Indeed, there’s a pretty strong argument to be made that part of the reason why the Mueller probe has gone on as long as it has is because Trump keeps committing crimes, often in full view of the public.
His efforts to discredit, impede and otherwise handicap the Russia investigation have become so commonplace that trying to figure out what’s “news” and what’s just par for Bedminster is more about gauging reader interest than it is about the actual merits of any one particular story. That is, it’s all obstruction. Virtually everything he says and does with regard to the myriad criminal investigations into anyone who’s ever entered his event horizon is itself a crime, so the only way to know what’s “worth” covering and what isn’t is to look around and see what’s trending.
Well, on Tuesday, Matt Whitaker is trending (again) and as is always the case when Matt is in the news, it’s tied to (implicit) allegations of obstruction.
Trump’s decision to install Whitaker as Acting Attorney General following the unceremonious ouster of Jeff Sessions was a laughably transparent attempt to stymie Mueller. Whitaker boasted an “impressive” record of publicly derisive comments about the Russia probe and in case that wasn’t enough to endear him to Trump, he also had a history of maligning Hillary Clinton and siding with the White House on the dismissal of James Comey. It’s also rumored that he consulted with Trump (behind the backs of Sessions and Rosenstein) on how to get the ball rolling on investigations into political rivals. But you know all of that and if you don’t, you can read all about it in our exceedingly hilarious Matt Whitaker archive.
The effort to pretend like Whitaker’s history of anti-Mueller rants had nothing to do with Trump’s decision to appoint him Acting AG reached epic levels of ridiculousness on November 9 when he (Trump) actually tried to say that he didn’t even know Matt Whitaker. There was just one problem:
As usual, you almost – almost – feel sorry for the right-wing outlets and web portals whose job it is to spend all day defending and otherwise explaining this charade, because Trump is a massive liability, something the Kremlin probably figured out about 18 months ago.
In any case, Tuesday’s bombshell comes courtesy of The New York Times who, as part of a sweeping investigative piece aimed at shedding still more light on Trump’s efforts to undermine US law enforcement, says the president once called Whitaker and tried to convince Matt to put an ally in charge of the Michael Cohen investigation. To wit:
As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump’s role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.
Mr. Whitaker, who had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to “jump on a grenade” for the president, knew he could not put Mr. Berman in charge because Mr. Berman had already recused himself from the investigation. The president soon soured on Mr. Whitaker, as he often does with his aides, and complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away.
It’s hard to know what’s funnier there – the fact that Trump just picked up the phone and asked Whitaker to do something wholly dubious or the fact that Trump “soured” on Matt so fast.
The Times goes (much) further, revealing a series of heretofore unknown efforts to attack and undercut federal investigators going back to the beginning of his presidency.
Of course if what the Times says is true, then Whitaker might well have perjured himself this month when he testified on Capitol Hill. To say Matt was “evasive” in front of the House Judiciary Committee wouldn’t be quite right, because that would imply at least a modicum of success when it comes to dodging questions without raising too many eyebrows. Instead, he came across as downright guilty. For instance:
Whitaker’s testimony was, objectively speaking, a disaster. If you could somehow show the clips to someone who had no context and had no idea who the people on the screen were or what they were talking about, that inherently dispassionate observer would doubtlessly tell you that the bald man in the glasses was guilty of something. As we put it in our postmortem:
Whitaker has a lot to hide and if he doesn’t, he sure has a funny way of acting innocent. God only knows how many times he perjured himself on Friday.
Matt is now, to quote The Times, “under scrutiny by House Democrats for possible perjury”. But for now anyway, the Justice Department is sticking by him. Asked for comment, DoJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec simply repeated a passage from Whitaker’s testimony as follows:
Under oath to the House Judiciary Committee, then-Acting Attorney General Whitaker stated that ‘at no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation.’
Whitaker, Kupec says, “stands by his testimony.”
The Times goes on to say the following about what happened after Trump attempted to convince Matt to compel Berman to un-recuse:
What exactly Mr. Whitaker did after the call is unclear, but there is no evidence that he took any direct steps to intervene in the Manhattan investigation. He did, however, tell some associates at the Justice Department that the prosecutors in New York required “adult supervision.”
We’ve said for months that Whitaker would end up getting himself into trouble before his stint as Acting AG was over. It was inevitable and you can be sure that Democrats on the Hill are now clamoring to investigate this situation and determine whether or not Whitaker committed perjury earlier this month.
Asked at the White House Tuesday whether reports that he tried to convince Whitaker to put Berman in charge of the hush money probe were true , Trump said this:
Oh, well I guess that’s that then!