A little over two months ago Trump elevated the level of chaos in his administration when he appointed the chief of staff of former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions Matthew Whitaker to temporary interim Acting US Attorney General after asking for Sessions’ resignation, bypassing the normal process of appointing the number two in line, US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is responsible for overseeing the Office of Special Counsel investigation.
In a White House whose administration’s cabinet-level political appointees are surrounded and embroiled in scandals, ethical problems, watch-dog investigations and court battles; where a sitting POTUS is actively being sued for conflicts of interests, allegations of mixing his personal family business finances with political pay-to-play involving both domestic peoples and suspect foreign nation-heads, and of course, the lingering Mueller investigation into the Trump Campaign organization that hangs over the White House, and the nation, like a gathering of dark and ominous storm clouds, the White House now invites into their midst one more possible scandal in the making after the firing or ‘forced’ “resignation,” depending on the legalese of it all, of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.the News Blender
The decision to appoint Whitaker raised several problematic questions over the legality of the appointment, while Whitaker brought several ethical problems of his own with him.
How Whitaker came to be or why he would be considered for Sessions chief of staff has always been an unknown, though speculation occurred after his becoming acting US AG.
What is known is he became Sessions chief of staff in September 2017, replacing Jody Hunt after Trump announced intentions of nominating Hunt for US Assistant AG for the Civil Division that same month.
What is also know, as a chief of staff to the US AG, Whitaker would have been responsible for being able to make “substantive choices about what is important to bring to the AG….,” according to the former U.S. attorney and deputy attorney general George Terwilliger.
At the time of Whitaker becoming Sessions’ chief of staff little to no attention was paid to his past statements on the Mueller SOC, which include written opinion pieces and television appearances.
What also was not known, at least publicly, was that Whitaker was “part of a company accused by the US government of running a multimillion-scam” and “sat on [the] advisory board of World Patent Marketing” which resulted in the company paying a $26m settlement in May 2018, only just 6 months prior to being appointed to Acting US AG, meaning while he was Jeff Sessions chief of staff, or the knowledge of him being involved with a questionable one-man operational foundation called Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT).
These are just a few of the problems this administration, already plagued with scandal, invited into the White House and the US Department of Justice with Matthew Whitaker all before the problems created after Trump appointed him acting top cop of the United States – just 18 hours after the Republican controlled House was flipped to the Democrats, because “it all but guarantees an investigation by House judiciary” when the Democrats officially controlled the majority in the House.
Lawsuits are now challenging the legality of Whitaker’s appointment in multiple lower court cases, while speculation circulated his appointment was a way to circumvent the process of a Senate confirmation, especially considering he would now be overseeing the Mueller investigation, which he has, to date, refused to recuse himself from despite ethics officials advice would be for him to do so.
Since November, House Democrats “have been pressing for public answers from Whitaker,” Politico reported, on his role in overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation” and Whitaker had agreed to meet with the House Judiciary Committee in January.
But that commitment continued to stall as the Department of Justice continued to cite the “ongoing government shutdown” and Whitaker’s “busy travel schedule” as reasons for the continuing delays.
The DOJ, still citing the same reasons attempted to delay again, this time telling the Judicial and Oversight committee they would have to push back Whitaker giving his testimony until “next month.”
Which was met with a reply letter from the House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), that the committee will see Acting AG Whitaker no later than January 29th.
Nadler’s letter attached in the above text reads, in part:
Dear Acting Attorney General Whitaker:
I am in receipt of your response to my December 21 letter in which you offer to testify before the Committee on the Judiciary “on February 12, 2019 or February 13, 2019 … so long as the Department is at least two weeks remover from a partial government shutdown.”
I cannot accept your proposal. We are willing to work with you to identify a mutually identifiable date for your testimony, but we will not allow that date to slip past January 29, 2010 – the day of the President’s scheduled address to Congress, when we know you will be in Washington.
As you know, it has been nearly 15 months since Attorney General Sessions testified before the Committee. It is past time for the Committee to conduct oversight of the Department, and I understood you to have committed to testifying before the Committee in January during our telephone call on November 30, 2018. We require your testimony – in January – on a number of pressing matters:
He goes on to list bullet points which include, discussions about “a wide range” of proposed legislation, wanting answers for the Department’s “decision to alter its litigation position relating to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and having questions about “several recent efforts by the Administration that could have the effect of weakening federal protections for Civil Rights.”
They will require explanations for “several apparently false statements by Administration officials about national security threats at the Southern border, including President Trump’s demonstrably false statements during last year’s address to Congress, that “according to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals of terrorism and terrorism-related offense since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.”
That they “must discuss the impact of President’s near-daily statements attacking the integrity of the Department of Justice, the FBI, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation,” adding that it is expected Members “will have a number of questions” regarding Whitaker’s “tenure” at the DOJ and “a clear explanation of the current line of responsibility for the supervision of the Special Counsel’s investigation.”
Nadler then addresses Whitaker’s ‘proposal’ that his appearance would also wait until it is “at least two weeks removed” from the end of the shutdown. Nadler explains to him, that in 1995, “the Office of Legal Counsel twice [emphasis Nadler’s] determined that, in the event of a funding lapse, “the Department may continue activities such as providing testimony at hearings if the Department’s participation is necessary for the hearing to be effective.”
“Your presence is certainly necessary to the hearing. Indeed, some of the most critical questions my colleagues may ask concern the impact of the shutdown on Department operations and personnel,” Nadler says.
President Trump has nominated William Barr to serve as US Attorney General. The Senate has now set Barr’s confirmation hearing for this week, planning on a two-day hearing on Jan 15 and Jan 16.
Democrats, already having been frustrated with the continuing delay tactics, are now “considering a subpoena to force” Whitaker’s appearance seeing their window of opportunity now possibly limited, while Republicans show “no interest in hauling Whitaker to Capitol Hill,” with new ranking Republican Rep Doug Collins saying his testimony would be pointless “on his way out the door.”
While other Republicans voiced concerns Whitaker could be an embarrassment, signaling “they’d prefer that he stay away.”
A defense attorney working with a client in the Russia investigation said Whitaker would be in for a rough time if he were to appear before the House panel.
“They’ll have some fun with him, but he’s a short-timer,” the lawyer said.Politico
Acting AG Whitaker kisses up to Trump for staying in DC over holidays: “Sir, Mr President, I will start by highlighting the fact you stayed in DC over the holidays, giving up Christmas w/your family, New Year’s w/your family… you have demonstrated your dedication to delivering” pic.twitter.com/9Lo2pMocgN— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 2, 2019
We will continue to keep an eye on this one. He will either become moot or entertainment. Stay tuned.
For additional further reading, for what it is worth, in Nadler’s reference to requests for explanations “including President Trump’s demonstrably false statements during last year’s address to Congress, that “according to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals of terrorism and terrorism-related offense since 9/11 came here from outside of our country,” could be in reference to this report from the Washington Post: