Whit­taker is wrong choice at wrong time

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Ruth Mar­cus Colum­nist

Colum­nist Ruth Mar­cus writes about Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s con­tro­ver­sial pick to be act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Matthew Whi­taker, Pres­i­dent Trump’s hand­picked se­lec­tion to re­place Jeff Ses­sions as at­tor­ney gen­eral, is the wrong choice for the job at ex­actly the wrong time.

Of course, from Trump’s point of view, that is the point. He ousts Ses­sions, whose al­leged dis­loy­alty Trump has be­moaned for months. Un­der the or­di­nary rules of suc­ces­sion at the Jus­tice De­part­ment, Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod J. Rosen­stein would take over as act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral un­til a suc­ces­sor is con­firmed. But in­stead of al­low­ing that to hap­pen, Trump in­stalls Whi­taker, Ses­sions’ chief of staff and, more to the point, a lawyer who has ex­pressed doubt about, if not out­right hos­til­ity to, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III.

For Trump, this is a prob­lem solved. Out: an at­tor­ney gen­eral who, fol­low­ing Jus­tice De­part­ment rules and heed­ing the ad­vice of the de­part­ment’s ethics pro­fes­sion­als, re­cused him­self from the Mueller probe. In: Whi­taker, who, be­fore join­ing the de­part­ment, an­nounced to the world how he would deal with the med­dle­some Mueller.

By starv­ing him of funds. “So I could see a sce­nario where Jeff Ses­sions is re­placed with a re­cess ap­point­ment, and that at­tor­ney gen­eral doesn’t fire Bob Mueller, but he just re­duces his bud­get to so low that his in­ves­ti­ga­tion grinds to al­most a halt,” Whi­taker, a for­mer U.S. at­tor­ney for Iowa, said in July 2017. This wasn’t at some kind of se­cret con­ser­va­tive ca­bal — it was on CNN.

Or by slam­ming the brakes on Mueller’s abil­ity to fol­low the ev­i­dence against Trump or his fam­ily. “It is time for Rosen­stein, who is the act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral for the pur­poses of this in­ves­ti­ga­tion, to or­der Mueller to limit the scope of his in­ves­ti­ga­tion to the four cor­ners of the or­der ap­point­ing him spe­cial coun­sel,” Whi­taker wrote in an op-ed for CNN the fol­low­ing month. “If he doesn’t, then Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion will even­tu­ally start to look like a po­lit­i­cal fish­ing ex­pe­di­tion. This would not only be out of char­ac­ter for a re­spected fig­ure like Mueller, but also could be dam­ag­ing to the pres­i­dent of the United States and his fam­ily — and by ex­ten­sion, to the coun­try.”

To re­view Whi­taker’s CNN ap­pear­ances is to see a loy­al­ist de­ter­mined to see no evil — po­lit­i­cal ham-hand­ed­ness per­haps, but noth­ing ap­proach­ing crim­i­nal­ity — in the con­duct of the pres­i­dent and those around him. “You would al­ways take the meet­ing,” Whi­taker said in July 2017 of Don­ald Trump Jr.’s Trump Tower meet­ing with a Rus­sian lawyer ped­dling dirt on Hil­lary Clin­ton. “You cer­tainly want to have any ad­van­tage, any le­gal ad­van­tage you can.”

Con­versely, Whi­taker ap­pears ea­ger to per­ceive — and pros­e­cute — crim­i­nal­ity where Clin­ton is con­cerned. When Trump fired FBI di­rec­tor James Comey in May 2017, Whi­taker raced to the pres­i­dent’s de­fense. Derid­ing Comey’s as­ser­tion that “no rea­son­able pros­e­cu­tor” would have brought charges against Clin­ton, Whi­taker wrote in an op-ed for The Hill, “I was a fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor for five years and was proud to serve in the De­part­ment of Jus­tice, and I would’ve brought that case. … Re­gard­less of the po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences, Di­rec­tor Comey should have rec­om­mended to At­tor­ney Gen­eral Loretta Lynch that the Jus­tice De­part­ment go for­ward with prose­cut­ing Clin­ton, as she is not above the law.” Fi­nally, an at­tor­ney gen­eral will­ing to lock her up.

And, per­haps even more im­por­tant, one with a broad view of pres­i­den­tial pre­rog­a­tives. Trump, he said in June 2017, was “well within his power of the ex­ec­u­tive” both to urge Comey to go easy on fired Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Michael Flynn and, even­tu­ally, to fire Comey.

Like­wise, he said in June 2017, as Trump was re­ported to be con­sid­er­ing fir­ing Mueller, the pres­i­dent “is try­ing to send a mes­sage to the spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor” that “I can reach out and if I want to, I can ter­mi­nate you. I think that is very dan­ger­ous po­lit­i­cally, but legally there is cer­tainly a way for that to hap­pen.” Ac­tu­ally, Jus­tice De­part­ment rules in­su­late Mueller from be­ing fired ex­cept for cause, and then only by the at­tor­ney gen­eral — who would be, as of Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, Whi­taker.

Who un­der­stands, as well as any­one, the im­pli­ca­tions of Trump’s ma­neu­ver. “It’s hard to watch an at­tor­ney gen­eral that doesn’t have the con­fi­dence of the pres­i­dent,” Whi­taker said in July 2017. But, he ac­knowl­edged, “to put a new at­tor­ney gen­eral in is go­ing to be dif­fi­cult and it is go­ing to raise a lot of po­lit­i­cal is­sues up on Capi­tol Hill.”

As it should with Whi­taker’s in­stal­la­tion. As it must.

Ruth Mar­cus is syn­di­cated by The Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group.

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