After nearly two years of railing on his first choice for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump finally got the chance to do what he had been itching to do ever since Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe: replace him.
And so he did replace Sessions—the day after the midterms—with someone whose TV appearances he liked. It has gone swimmingly, mostly because Trump applied the same rigorous vetting process to Matthew Whitaker that he does to all his hires. It goes something like this:
Trump: Will you do what I tell you?
Trump: Even if it’s completely stupid, ignorant, malevolent, abhorrent, immoral and illegal?
Trump: You’re hired!
Despite that shakedown, somehow Trump failed to uncover (or maybe even care) about all the ethics questions that would trail Whitaker into the job. He was a huckster who helped a company bilk people for their life savings, was employed by a conservative dark-money funded group, and routinely spouted off in public about ways to kill the Russia probe he would soon be tasked with overseeing. The ethics cloud that hung over Whitaker was so dark, nearly 500 Justice Department alums signed on to an open letter this week challenging the legitimacy of his appointment.
In essence, Whitaker was so marred within days of his appointment, he appears to have become a lame duck before he ever really got off the ground. After his rather loud entrance on to the national stage, he has gone practically silent in an effort to weather the storm of scrutiny. In the meantime, attorneys in the office of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reportedly continue to manage the day-to-day of the Russia investigation that Trump had clearly tapped Whitaker to oversee. Though a lot of questions remain regarding Whitaker’s relationship to the probe, he doesn’t seem to have changed the trajectory of Mueller’s work one iota thus far.
The appointment is so off track at this point, even Trump seems to view Whitaker as dead weight and is now floating names for the Attorney General position, writes the Washington Post.
Former attorney general William P. Barr is President Trump’s leading candidate to be nominated to lead the Justice Department, according to people familiar with the deliberations — a choice that could be announced in coming days as the agency presses forward with a probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Trump has reportedly told confidants he intends to nominate Barr but for the time being, he’s stuck with Whitaker.