Shortly after President Donald Trump asked for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ resignation Wednesday afternoon, he fired off a tweet announcing Sessions’ temporary replacement, Matthew Whitaker.
Whitaker, who previously served as Sessions’ chief of staff in the Department of Justice (DOJ), “will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States,” Trump tweeted. “He will serve our Country well.”
We are pleased to announce that Matthew G. Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States. He will serve our Country well….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2018
Whitaker isn’t a well-known figure in the Trump White House, and despite the fact that he will only be serving in an acting capacity, he will likely be tasked with overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
A review of Whitaker’s tweets and public statements about the Mueller investigation reveals exactly why the president handpicked him to control the fate of what Trump calls a “witch hunt.”
He has called the Mueller investigation a “fishing expedition”
Whitaker seems to share the president’s belief that Mueller’s investigation has gone beyond the scope of Russian interference, according to an interview he gave on CNN last year.
“It would be a fishing expedition if they start looking into, essentially, all of Trump’s finances,” Whitaker said. “And I know that’s what some on the left want, but there is a 4th Amendment issue, even as it relates to the president and others in his family.”
“We cannot have unfettered prosecutors overturning every rock that [is] unrelated to any, like, nexus to the underlying issues, which is Russian coordination in the 2016 election.”
Around the same time, Whitaker tweeted an article he believed to be “worth a read.” The title? “Note to Trump’s lawyer: Do not cooperate with Mueller lynch mob.”
— Matt Whitaker 🇺🇸 (@MattWhitaker46) August 7, 2017
Whitaker even wrote an op-ed for CNN last summer that criticizes Mueller and flatly states the investigation has gone too far.
“Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing,” Whitaker wrote. “If he were to continue to investigate the [Trump family’s] financial relationships without a broadened scope in his appointment, then this would raise serious concerns that the special counsel’s investigation was a mere witch hunt.”
In reality, as ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser points out, “the letter appointing Mueller provides that the special counsel may investigate ‘any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.'”
He believes Trump has the ability to fire Mueller because the president is above the law
Another article Whitaker shared and described as “worth a read” argues that Trump could fire Mueller and appoint a temporary replacement while the Senate is in recess.
— Matt Whitaker 🇺🇸 (@MattWhitaker46) August 4, 2017
During a CNN appearance in July 2017, Whitaker suggested a similar scenario in which the president doesn’t fire Mueller but stops his investigation nonetheless.
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
In issues ranging from blocking Mueller’s investigation to numerous conflicts of interest, Whitaker routinely seems to suggest the rules simply don’t apply to Trump.
In another CNN appearance last summer, Whitaker argued Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel doesn’t violate the constitution’s emoluments clause — which prohibits any government official from receiving gifts or profits from any heads of state — because “the ethics laws and the conflicts of interest rules do not apply to the president or vice president.”
— Matt Whitaker 🇺🇸 (@MattWhitaker46) August 8, 2017
He’s already made up his mind about the investigation
During a 2017 radio interview, Whitaker said of the Mueller investigation that there is “no criminal obstruction of justice to be had here,” a signal that the now-acting attorney general was convinced Mueller’s probe was unnecessary from the outset.
Another reason Whitaker needs to be recused from overseeing Mueller for the sake of rule of law.
Whitaker has apparently made up his mind.
Whitaker: “There is no criminal obstruction of justice charge to be had here."
From a radio interview 2017:
— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) November 7, 2018
And even if the president did collude with Russia, Whitaker seems to believe there’s nothing serious Mueller’s investigation could uncover. He told CNN’s Don Lemon that Donald Trump Jr.’s differing statements on his June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with Russian lawyers mean nothing.
“There is no federal crime of collusion. So we’re either looking at espionage charges, which seems farcical with the evidence we have now, or we’re looking at campaign finance violations but I still don’t see how there’s anything of value there,” Whitaker said.
All told, the president has found himself an ally in Whitaker and when the time came to show Sessions the door, Trump bypassed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to name Whitaker acting head of the Justice Department.
While Trump consistently butted heads with Sessions over the latter’s decision to recuse himself from the ongoing Russia investigation, Whitaker has a proven record of doing exactly what Trump appreciates most: appearing on cable news to say nice things about him.