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Friday, November 09, 2018

Is Whittaker the latest Scaramucci?

by digby

My Salon column this morning:

Less than 24 hours after the polls had closed ---  and immediately after President Trump delivered one of his most petulant press conference tantrums --- the word went forth that he had finally rid himself of hated Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the man whose crime against him was to follow the rules. It's been obvious since the day Sessions showed that he held to the old-fashioned notion that in order to function as the highest law enforcement official in the country, his personal reputation and appearance of integrity were more important than fealty to the president, that his days were numbered.

Trump tried hard to get him to quit but Sessions refused to leave his dream job until he'd remade the country into Alabama circa 1952. He made a good stab at it, (even gratuitously granting police even more power as one last slap in the face to civil libertarians on his way out the door.) But Trump's ego just couldn't allow him to continue no matter how skillfully and efficiently he was carrying out the president's agenda.

Trump didn't do the normal thing and put the Deputy Attorney general in charge until a new person could be confirmed by the Senate. Of course he didn't. He named a completely unqualified toady by the name of Matthew Whittaker who had been serving as Jeff Sessions' Chief of staff for the past year. Nobody seems to know exactly how he came to have that particular job, but what is known is that he was a small time political player from Iowa who once served as a US Attorney and more recently was a crony of Sam Clovis, the Iowa politico who worked Trump campaign and got himself all caught up in the Russia investigation and had to resign his sinecure at the Department of Agriculture. Clovis reportedly advised him to go to New York and become a TV Trump defender and get noticed by the president so he could get a judicial appointment.

He had been working as a sole practitioner for a far right dark money funded organization called Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust aka FACT where he disseminated "legal opinions" in the media in support of Republican politics. He is, in other words, a political hack and he didn't operate at a very high level. But he did apparently impress the president with his extreme sycophancy so he went directly from guest hits on CNN to Chief of Staff to the Attorney General. And now he is the Acting Attorney General himself.

This shouldn't be too surprising, really. Recall that Trump wanted to make his personal pilot the head of the FAA. He brought in his totally inexperience son-in-law to run his middle east policy and much else. His daughter is a senior staffer. That's how things work in Trumpworld.

Of course, there's more to it than that. Whittaker spent his time in the media during the summer of 2017 vociferously defending Trump against the Mueller investigation which he is now overseeing. Among his greatest hits:

David Corn of Mother Jones reported on a radio interview in which he claimed that the president has unlimited power over the Justice Department:
“There is no case for obstruction of justice because the president has all the power of the executive and delegates that to people like the FBI director and the attorney general…The president could and has in our nation’s history said stop investigating this person or please investigate this other person.”

Referring to the Comey firing, he said “There’s really nothing here...This is power that is completely vested in the president…If he wanted to he could have told Jim [Comey] to stop investigating former [Defense Intelligence Agency] director Flynn. And he didn’t…I’m sure he made his preference known. Quite frankly, he’s president of the United States. He can do that.”

The Daily Beast reported that he stated unequivocally that there was no collusion:
“The truth is there was no collusion with the Russians and the Trump campaign. There was interference by the Russians into the election, but that was not collusion with the campaign. That’s where the left seems to be combining those two issues.The last thing they want right now is for the truth to come out, and for the fact that there’s not a single piece of evidence that demonstrates that the Trump campaign had any illegal or any improper relationships with the Russians. It’s that simple...The real Russian ties were with Hillary Clinton.

According to CNN's Andrew Kaczynski, who gathered many of these quotes, he has already concluded there was no obstruction of justice either:
Let's assume that the President asked him to stop investigating Flynn. That doesn't rise to the level of obstruction of justice and it doesn't sound to me, based on what's been reported, that Jim Comey, as he sat there, believed that the President was telling him to stop the investigation.
 Let's just say that his position on the Mueller probe couldn't be any clearer.

The Washington Post reported that two people close to Whitaker said he does not plan to take himself off the Russia case. They also said he likely won't approve any presidential subpoena which undoubtedly made Rudy Giuliani very happy. Who needs the aggravation?

But perhaps Whittaker might be persuaded to rethink that by someone he trusts, himself:

That may be the most sensible thing he's said about this entire matter.

CNN reported late on Thursday that the White House is surprised by all the blowback and they are starting to get worried. They had no idea he was nothing more than a cheap flak who'd been flapping his lips all over the media about the Mueller investigation for months before he mysteriously became Jeff Sessions' right-hand man:

It was not widely known among White House staff that he'd commented repeatedly on the special counsel's investigation in interviews and on television -- which is ironic given that this is what drew President Donald Trump to him and raises continued questions over the depth of the administration's vetting process.

That machine is as well-oiled as ever.

There has been much anticipation that the Mueller investigation is coming to a head. Something may have even happened already. Things are moving very fast. But you have to wonder if this man Whittaker is going to end up going the Scaramucci route. It kind of feels like it.

The question is how much damage he can do before he exits the scene. (He already got to work issuing a new, probably unlawful, order to require asylum seekers to only apply through authorized ports of entry.) If nothing else he will have been briefed on all the details of the Mueller investigation and he has undoubtedly already shared every single one of them with Donald Trump. That's what he's there for. It's all right out in the open.