In 48 hours, Matthew Whitaker had gone from serving as chief of staff to the attorney general and writing of op-eds to serving as acting attorney general of the United States, and media outlets said his scandal-plagued liability to the administration was so serious he might not be able to accept his new role.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned under pressure, and Whitaker, a former federal prosecutor, was named acting attorney general.
On Friday morning, the Washington Post published a story headlined “Acting attorney general Whitaker has no intention of recusing himself from Russia probe, associates say,” and included in the lead paragraph that “people close to him … do not believe he would approve any subpoena of President Trump as part of that investigation.”
HuffPost warned, “Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker Once Expressed Terrifying View of Executive Power,” because, as it said in the subhead, “Trump’s choice to replace Jeff Sessions has been deeply critical of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.”
In “What Will Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker Mean For The Mueller Inquiry,” National Public Radio warned that Whitaker could fire Mueller or starve his investigation for funding.
New York Magazine wrote a piece mocking his tweets, which deal with everyday matters such as wanting to golf, liking coffee and going to work.
The New York Times came out with a piece headlined, “How Sessions’ Firing Could Affect the Russia Investigation,” in which it quoted a former Obama justice department official as saying, “What guerrilla-war tactics will he try to take to limit Mueller’s activities?”
This was followed by “What will result from all this controversy?” pieces.
Axios went first with a story headlined, “Pressure mounts over acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker.”
“Matt Whitaker has been acting attorney general for just one full day, but he’s already under extreme pressure,” wrote Axios’ Jonathan Swan. Trump “threw Whitaker into an immediate political and legal storm,” with the unexpectedly quick departure of Sessions.
“The White House expected opposition from Democrats, but the blowback is widening and now includes a growing body of conservative legal opinion,” Swan wrote.
Swan’s statement is somewhat misleading. The blowback comes from Democrats who say since Whitaker has written that the Mueller probe has come close to exceeding its legal mandate and had speculated once an attorney general could not fire the special counsel but rather just reduce its resources, he should recuse himself.
The reference to conservative legal opinion is to a piece written by Neal Katyal, who served in the George W. Bush administration, and George Conway, husband of presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway, that says it may not be legal to appoint Whitaker because he has not been confirmed for any position by the U.S. Senate.
The Justice Department says the appointment was made pursuant to the Vacancies Reform Act.
The legal view HuffPost reported on is Whitaker’s quote that Trump’s firing of FBI Director Jim Comey did not constitute 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 and please investigate this other person. The hyperventilation of what we see here is not sustainable based on the facts.”
Trump’s legal team has argued throughout that he had full authority under the Constitution to fire Comey for any reason or no reason at all.
CNN followed the Axios story with: “Whitaker backlash prompts concern at the White House,” in which it reports, based on anonymous sources, that “there is a growing concern inside the White House over the negative reaction to Matthew Whitaker being tapped as acting attorney general after Jeff Sessions’ abrupt firing.”
Sessions resigned, which is important because Whitaker would not have been able to assume his duties had Sessions been fired.