Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III resigned his post as United States Attorney General earlier this month, ending his almost two-year tenure in the position. His letter of resignation, submitted the day after the midterm elections, extolled the accomplishments  of the Justice Department under his administration and made clear that his resignation — elicited only at the president’s request — was tantamount to a firing.
Under Sessions, the Justice Department pursued anti-LGBTQ policies and opposed prison reform. He also endorsed “zero-tolerance” policies and family separation at the southern border, and generally exuded antipathy toward fundamental civil rights. His firing, though, has dismayed many and evoked comparisons to Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre.
Those concerns are valid: the newly installed acting Attorney General, Matthew G. Whitaker, is not only ethically imperiled less than two weeks into his tenure, but has also expressed opposition to the investigation into Russia headed by former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III. However, it should be noted that while Sessions did choose to recuse himself from the investigation, he was also deemed “the worst attorney general in modern American history” by the ACLU. He will not be missed.
In Opinion— The New York Times (@nytimes) November 8, 2018
Op-Ed contributors Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III write, "President Trump’s installation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States after forcing the resignation of Jeff Sessions is unconstitutional." https://t.co/UPRE1XzJEp
Et tu, Whitaker?
Sessions’ political demise left the position of attorney general open, and rather than let the title fall to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whose fraught relationship with the Trump administration has been previously chronicled by NBN, Trump chose to appoint Sessions’ own chief of staff, Lex Luthor lookalike Matthew Whitaker.
Whitaker’s hostility toward the Mueller investigation, which has been well-documented by The Washington Post, has reified fears about the investigation’s safety and independence. What’s more, Whitaker’s apparent partisan leanings and past comments on the investigation have elicited calls for him to recuse himself, returning the investigation to Rosenstein’s purview.
At press time, however, Whitaker has announced that he has no intent to recuse himself, and Trump, saying the quiet part out loud as always, has said that that he will not intervene if Whitaker attempts to impede the investigation.
Whitaker will likely remain in office at least until early next year thanks to the Senate’s legislative schedule, which would make it difficult to confirm a new appointee before then. In the meantime, however, questions continue to swirl about the constitutionality of his appointment which legal scholars, including conservative luminary George Conway, have argued is blatantly unconstitutional. Meanwhile, Kellyanne Conway insists that Whitaker is qualified and has done a “fabulous job,” which ought to make for a contentious Thanksgiving in the Conway household.
The subpoena strikes backAlso in the news, House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte is continuing to take full advantage of his subpoena power as time runs out on the GOP House majority. Goodlatte reportedly plans to subpoena former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former FBI Director James Comey over their decisions leading up to the 2016 election.
Critics have suggested that the subpoenas are intended to further undermine confidence in the FBI and the Justice Department as tensions heighten around Trump, Russia and the Mueller probe. Both Lynch and Comey, however, have indicated that they are willing to testify. Comey is expected to appear before the committee on Nov. 29, and Lynch on Dec. 5.
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions was fired on Nov. 7 following the midterm elections. His departure has raised concerns about the fate of the Mueller investigation.
- His successor, acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker, is not bound by Sessions’ recusal from all matters pertaining to Russia and has expressed hostility to the special counsel investigation in the past.
- Simultaneously, Mitch McConnell has continued to stonewall a bill protecting the Mueller investigation, despite bipartisan support.
The investigation remains unimpeded for now, but as pressure continues to mount post-midterms, its status is far more precarious than it was.