Here’s What Sessions’ Replacement Has Said About The Mueller Probe
The new acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker’s past comments indicate an uncertain future for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The Lede: President Trump has just taken the most aggressive action yet in his effort to obstruct Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
After months of verbal attacks and frustration over his recusal from the Russia investigation, President Trump has fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and appointed Sessions’ Chief of Staff Matthew Whitaker to take his place until a permanent replacment is announced.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who President Trump has long considered firing, has reportedly been removed from overseeing the probe and also may resign within the next 48 hours. Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano has said Whitaker’s appointment may have violated the law. Whitaker, who has been very critical of Mueller’s probe in the past, will now be overseeing the most important federal investigation of our time.
Whitaker has said that Trump stopping the Mueller probe would be constitutional, called Mueller an unaccountable prosecutor, said the probe has gone too far in a CNN op-ed about how Trump’s finances should be off limits, and shared this tweet:
— Matt Whitaker 🇺🇸 (@MattWhitaker46) August 7, 2017
Whitaker also made this claim which is oddly specific to his newfound role:
Matthew Whitaker on @CNN, July 26, 2017: “I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced, it would recess appointment and that attorney general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigations grinds to almost a halt.”
— Ryan Struyk (@ryanstruyk) November 7, 2018
Whitaker also has ties to Sam Clovis, fueling Democrats’ calls for his recusal:
Whaddaya know: Mark Whitaker, now in charge of the Mueller investigation, chaired the 2014 campaign of Sam Clovis, a grand jury witness in that investigation. https://t.co/NzUkgjwOp1
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) November 7, 2018
And one more thing: Whitaker wrote an op-ed in USA TODAY titled “I would indict Hillary Clinton.”
As Natasha Bertrand of The Atlantic points out, the timing is suspect given how Mueller is likely to move again soon:
Whitaker—who apparently feels very strongly about protecting Trump’s business dealings—is replacing Sessions at a moment when Donald Trump Jr., the executive VP of the Trump Org, is reportedly bracing for a Mueller indictment. https://t.co/outUebEVE6 https://t.co/JMuyklthgl
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) November 7, 2018
The Context: The firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions has wide-ranging ramifications for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation because his replacement will have the power to shut down the probe, a power Sessions no longer has. President Trump has repeatedly expressed his disdain for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. President Trump has reportedly asked Sessions to un-recuse on multiple occasions, and he’s publicly said that if he knew Sessions would recuse himself, he wouldn’t have nominated him. And on Twitter, President Donald Trump has given what appeared to be the closest thing to a public order to end Mueller’s investigation by saying Sessions “should stop” the investigation. And now, President Trump has finally acted on those words.
As this is occurring, it’s important to put this in perspective with the other federal investigations and lawsuits plaguing Trump:
- Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference, potential conspiracy with the Trump campaign, and obstruction of justice
- The Southern District of New York’s investigation into Trump’s former lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen (which Rosenstein and Mueller sparked by passing their findings over to them, leading to Trump becoming an unindicted co-conspirator in illegal hush money payments)
- The Manhattan District Attorney’s investigation into the Trump Organization
- The New York Attorney General’s investigation into the Trump Foundation
- Emoluments clause lawsuits
- Summer Zervos’ lawsuit
The Analysis: Trump’s obsession with Sessions’ recusal is of interest to Mueller in his obstruction of justice probe. Mueller is also examining Trump’s tweets about Jeff Sessions. Let’s break down why Trump’s obsession, and his latest move to fire Sessions, could be incriminating:
Jeff Sessions was nominated for Attorney General in November 2016…that was before the public was aware the Russia investigation even existed and before FBI Director James Comey revealed the Trump campaign was under investigation. So, what President Trump is essentially saying is that he wouldn’t have nominated Sessions for Attorney General if he knew he wouldn’t protect him from an investigation the public didn’t know existed yet. If President Trump’s claim is true, it appears that Trump was aware there was underlying wrongdoing in his campaign that he expected Sessions to cover up. Otherwise, his claim wouldn’t make sense.
And now, with the firing of Sessions and apparent interference in the Justice Department’s handling of the Russia investigation, legal experts are claiming this is more evidence of obstruction of justice.
Overall, this adds to the case Mueller is building. Trump’s intention has long been clear, by his own admission, that he wants the Russia investigation to come to an end. Trump has long known that it would be politically toxic to fire Rosenstein or attempt to fire Mueller, so he appears to see replacing Sessions as a backdoor way to obstruct the probe. The replacement AG could limit Mueller’s scope, decide how to handle Mueller’s reports, or shut down the probe outright. The fact that Senate Republicans are surrendering to Trump’s ousting of Sessions means they’re capitulating to Trump’s interference in the Justice Department and are complicit in his coverup. Democrats, on the other hand, have some plans of their own.