Whi­taker was picked to end Mueller probe

Ques­tion now for GOP is which side are you on?

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Chris Truax

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ap­pointed Matthew Whi­taker as in­terim at­tor­ney gen­eral for one rea­son.

The for­mer U.S. at­tor­ney has had a rel­a­tively ob­scure ca­reer. Be­fore At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions ap­pointed him as his chief of staff, Whi­taker spent sev­eral years run­ning a foun­da­tion ded­i­cated to pub­li­ciz­ing mis­deeds — and al­leged mis­deeds — com­mit­ted by Hil­lary Clin­ton, El­iz­a­beth War­ren, Harry Reid and other Democrats.

But there is one thing that re­ally made Whi­taker stand out for Trump: his pub­lic at­tacks on spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, in­clud­ing pro­pos­als on how it might best be sab­o­taged. Whi­taker even sug­gested that a “stage-crafty” so­lu­tion to Trump’s Mueller prob­lem would be to “re­duce his bud­get to so low that his in­ves­ti­ga­tions grind to al­most a halt.”

Of course, Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion is not a hoax. Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion has al­ready re­sulted in at least 35 in­dict­ments or guilty pleas di­rectly re­lated to ac­tive Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence. And it is im­per­a­tive that Mueller be al­lowed to com­plete his in­ves­ti­ga­tion which, de­spite Trump’s in­sis­tence oth­er­wise, is not all about Don­ald Trump. It is about de­fend­ing our democ­racy from those who are seek­ing to de­stroy it.

So it is be­yond ques­tion that Whi­taker is not the cor­rect per­son to over­see Mueller. He has not been ap­pointed so that he can im­par­tially su­per­vise the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He is there to end the “witch hunt.”

It is very wrong that we should be hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion at all. In Amer­ica, law en­force­ment should not de­pend on the whims of one per­son. We should be re­ly­ing on our laws and in­sti­tu­tions to de­fend our democ­racy, not the pres­i­dent’s good will. For­tu­nately, there is a so­lu­tion ready and wait­ing to be voted on.

The Se­nate should pass the Spe­cial Coun­sel In­de­pen­dence and In­tegrity Act, which pro­vides a mea­sure of pro­tec­tion for Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion and en­sures that he can­not be re­moved for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons. A Se­nate com­mit­tee has al­ready ap­proved the bill on a bi­par­ti­san 14-7 vote.

The act makes a lot of sense in gen­eral. A spe­cial coun­sel can only be ap­pointed when the Jus­tice Depart­ment it­self has a con­flict of in­ter­est. It seems only rea­son­able that some checks and bal­ances be in place to en­sure that the Jus­tice of­fi­cial su­per­vis­ing the spe­cial coun­sel, who­ever it is, can­not re­move the spe­cial coun­sel with­out cause.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell has re­fused to bring the bill to the Se­nate floor for a vote be­cause, he says, Trump would not sign it. Per­haps not, but that’s what veto over­rides are for. McCon­nell has also re­fused to let the full Se­nate vote on the bill pro­tect­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­cause, he has said, “There’s no in­di­ca­tion that Mueller’s go­ing to be fired.” Well, Sen­a­tor McCon­nell, there is now.

It seems that the day of reck­on­ing has come. Trump has made no ef­fort to hide his loathing of the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He even re­peated his at­tacks at his news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day morn­ing. He has now fired Ses­sions en­tirely be­cause Ses­sions fol­lowed the law and re­fused to in­ter­fere with that in­ves­ti­ga­tion. In his place, Trump has ap­pointed some­one who thinks the in­ves­ti­ga­tion should be shut down. Trump’s and Whi­taker’s in­ten­tions could not be more clear if they had de­clared them on Twit­ter — which they very well might.

As a Repub­li­can, I am not in fa­vor of re­plac­ing our ele­phant mas­cot with an os­trich. We have now come to the end of de­ni­a­bil­ity. There is no ques­tion that Whi­taker has been ap­pointed specif­i­cally to ter­mi­nate or throt­tle the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion. So the ques­tion for our con­gres­sional lead­er­ship is this: Which side are you on? Will you stand up for our in­sti­tu­tions and de­fend our democ­racy? Or do you be­lieve that de­fend­ing Trump is more im­por­tant?

The base may judge you harshly if you defy Trump and de­fend the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion by pass­ing the Spe­cial Coun­sel In­de­pen­dence and In­tegrity Act. But his­tory will judge you more harshly still if you do not.

Chris Truax, an ap­pel­late lawyer in San Diego, is on the le­gal ad­vi­sory board of Repub­li­cans for the Rule of Law.


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