The republican President Donald Trump plucked a lackey out of obscurity due to his critical opinions against the FBI Mueller Trump-Russia probe while he was a frequent flyer on FOX TV and CNN, Matt Whitaker, to temporarily replace the recently fired AG Jeff Sessions, as the Acting Attorney General for the US Department of Justice (DOJ). In other words, Matt Whitaker auditioned for the job.
He obviously wasn’t appointed by President Trump because of his high level of integrity. It turns out that Matt Whitaker asked the DOJ’s ethics officials to do an informal evaluation as to whether he should be required to recuse himself from exercising his oversight duties regarding the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation being led by the Special Counsel Robert Mueller III. He has discounted the same advice from the DOJ’s Ethics Officers that the former AG Sessions felt obligated to follow.
Meanwhile there was a press release disseminated to the media that the Ethics’ officials were NOT recommending that Mr. Whitaker recuse himself with anything having to do with Mr. Mueller’s Russia-Trump inquiry.
Then the leaks started. Supposedly the DOJ ethics experts had recommended that Mr. Whitaker recuse himself from the Russia probe, but Mr. Whitaker and his right wing cronies weren’t having it. So they decided to do a work-around where Mr.Whitaker would be granted the green light to NOT RECUSE.
NO, these actions do not meet the acceptable standards expected from DOJ officials.
But this is what happens when the president uses his hiring/ appointment powers to pick justices who have gone on the record, being supportive of President Trump’s complaints that the FBI’s Russia-Trump probe has become a witch hunt where the Special Counsel has exceeded his authority, instead of recruiting and appointing the best qualified personnel.
This is how Judge Brett Kavanaugh became the latest US Supreme Court justice based on his 2009 writing, expanding the powers of the US presidency; how William Barr ended up being selected as the latest presidential appointment for the DOJ’s Attorney General position based on his June 2018 unsolicited legal memo that was highly critical of the FBI’s investigation being led by the Special Counsel Robert Mueller III.
As per the 12/20/18 Washington Post report, “Before coming to the Justice Department to serve as Sessions’ chief of staff, Whitaker was a TV legal commentator who wrote and spoke frequently about the Mueller probe — almost always in critical ways. He suggested on CNN that he could envision a scenario where Sessions was replaced and his successor “just reduces [Mueller’s] budget to so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.”
“The ethics controversy surrounding Whitaker could also have consequences for his chosen successor, Barr.”
“Now in private practice, Barr has similarly made public comments that are skeptical of Mueller, and this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee released a memo he sent to the Justice Department criticizing the special counsel for a “fatally misconceived” legal theory of how Trump may have obstructed justice.”
“The circumstances leading up to Whitaker’s rejection of the view of his department’s ethics office are likely to spur renewed criticism from Democrats, who have already challenged the legality of Trump decision to appoint a Justice Department staffer who has not been confirmed by the Senate to succeed Jeff Sessions, whom the president forced out Nov. 7.”
“Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said the Justice Department’s ethics opinion should be shared with Congress, adding, “DOJ officials must avoid not only actual impropriety but the appearance of impropriety.”
See Barr document as per Lawfare: Document: William Barr Memo on Obstruction InvestigationNote: It’s my opinion that the Barr memo is not as devastating as news reports are depicting. A closer read would raise the hairs on some supporters of President Trump.
See NYT article: Trump’s Attorney General Nominee Criticized Russia Investigation
Here is the rest of the story…
On December 20, 2018, Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky of the Washington Post penned the following report, “Ethics officials said Whitaker should recuse from the Mueller probe, but his advisers told him not to, officials say”
“A senior Justice Department ethics official concluded acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker should recuse from overseeing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe examining President Trump, but advisers to Whitaker recommended the opposite and he has no plans to step aside, according to people familiar with the matter.”
“The latest account of what happened underscores the high stakes and deep distrust — within Congress and in some corners of the Justice Department — surrounding Whitaker’s appointment to become the nation’s top law enforcement official until the Senate votes on the nomination of William P. Barr to take the job. Earlier in the day, a different official, who spoke on the condition they not be named, said ethics officials had advised Whitaker need not step aside, only to retract that account hours later.”
“Within days of the president’s announcement in early November that he had put Whitaker in the role on a temporary basis, Whitaker tapped a veteran U.S. attorney to become part of a four-person team of advisers on his new job, including the question of whether he should recuse from Mueller’s investigation because of his past statements regarding that probe, and his friendship with one of its witnesses, according to a senior Justice Department official.”
“Whitaker never asked Justice Department ethics officials for a recommendation, nor did he receive a formal recommendation, this official said.”
“However, after Whitaker met repeatedly with ethics officials to discuss the facts and the issues under consideration, a senior ethics official told the group of advisers on Tuesday (12/17/18) that it was a “close call,” but Whitaker should recuse to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, the official said. Whitaker was not present at that meeting, they said.”
“Those four advisers, however, disagreed with the ethics determination and recommended to Whitaker the next day not to recuse, saying there was no precedent for doing so, and doing so now could create a bad precedent for future attorneys general.”
The senior official who described the Whitaker discussions refused to identify the particular Justice Department employees involved.
Typically, ethics officials make recommendations that Justice Department employees are expected to follow, but the final decision on whether to recuse over an appearance of a conflict of interest was always Whitaker’s to make, according to past and current officials.
“Whitaker has decided not to recuse from the Mueller case, and a letter to that effect is expected to be sent to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), possibly later Thursday (12/20/18).”
“So far, Whitaker has not received any briefings on the Mueller investigation, but he may at some point, the senior Justice Department official said.”
“As the agency’s top official, Whitaker had been nominally supervising Mueller and was recently notified in advance of a key guilty plea in the case.”
Link to entire WAPO report: Ethics officials said Whitaker should recuse from the Mueller probe …