On Wednesday, Donald Trump did a dance in front of the press while behind the scenes the chairs were being shuffled at the Department of Justice. Matthew Whitaker—who was appointed to the DOJ a year ago entirely based on an editorial he wrote suggesting ways that a new attorney general might end Robert Mueller’s investigation—is now in charge of that investigation. Whitaker has moved from being a failed candidate for a local judge to Attorney General of the United States in less than two years on the basis of simply telling Donald Trump what he wants to hear.
While Rod Rosenstein hasn’t been fired, he doesn’t need to be. Robert Mueller now reports to Whitaker; the guy who proposed firing him, limiting the scope of his investigation, or cutting his budget to the point where the investigation was “effectively dead.”
Whitaker may have already instituted changes in the Mueller investigation. Significant changes in staffing might be visible. Might. But some of the changes that Whitaker proposed, like severely limiting Mueller’s budget or setting the scope of the investigation so that everything other than a handful of actions were off limits, would not. It’s not as if Mueller is going to put out a press release, and Whitaker knows that. One sign of Whitaker’s effect on the investigation could be—no sign at all. In issuing new indictments, Mueller would likely have to go to Whitaker for approval. It’s unclear how this might affect existing indictments already under seal, but if there is a continued ringing silence from the Russia investigation, it could well be because pending actions are going from Whitaker’s inbox straight to the circular file.
But it’s not as if writing anti-Muller editorials, or appearing on TV as an anti-Mueller commentator has been Whitaker’s only job over the last few years. As the Daily Beast reports, Whitaker was behind a secretive group that stepped in to protect members of the Trump campaign from allegations of meetings with Russian officials. That included trying to distract from the fact that Jeff Sessions lied about his meetings with the Russian ambassador in Senate testimony, by challenging Democratic senators to list all of their meetings. The organization was also connected to spreading rumors that Christine Blasey Ford mistook Brett Kavanaugh for another high school classmate.
When not busy interfering in the Russia investigation, Whitaker also kept busy promoting a patent scam. As Miami New Times reports, Whitaker wasn’t just on the board of a company selling would-be inventors worthless (and nonexistent) “worldwide patents,” he also sent threatening letters to a former customer of the scam who complained about being taken for tens of thousands of dollars. World Patent Marketing charged some customers over $70,000 for their patent services, did nothing, and used Whitaker to bully people into silence.
In one email included in thousands of pages of documents New Times reviewed, he accused a customer of “possible blackmail or extortion” and threatened “serious civil or criminal consequences.”
Just two days before Whitaker moved into the front office, CNN reported that Whitaker’s appointment would be an issue because of his connections to attacks on the Russia investigation. They reported that Trump was aware that Whitaker “would likely have to recuse” from anything connected to Mueller’s investigation because of his history of attacks on the investigation. But now that the scam artist is installed, the idea of recusal seems to be … recused.
While Whitaker has spoken with Trump directly about his future at the Justice Department, reportedly even contemplating taking his boss’s job, the White House has been informed that he too would likely have to recuse from the Russia investigation in light of some of his past writings and TV appearances.
But now that he’s there … recusal seems to not be an issue.
Now that Whitaker is in place, it’s been made clear that he is supervising the Russia investigation and there’s no sign that he’s about to recuse himself from any action. He’s putting his scam-management skills to work in support of Donald Trump. Because while being a threatening two-time loser and scam artist might not sound like a great resume for attorney general, it’s perfect for the Trump White House.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are calling for emergency action and demanding that all documents connected to Sessions, Whitaker, and their supervision of the Mueller investigation be saved. Representative Elijah Cummings, who will chair the Oversight Committee in January, has also sent a letter warning against interference in the investigation. But the timing of Whitaker’s appointment during the interval between the election and the start of the new Congress was deliberate. It gives Trump time to move against Mueller while Democrats are still essentially powerless to act.
By the time Democrats actually have the power to issue orders and subpoenas, Mueller could be gone, a new attorney general could be in place, and Whitaker could be on to a new role in the Trump White House. Efforts to restart the investigation will be criticized by Republicans as “endlessly rehashing something that’s already been investigated.” Instead, they’ll suggest the DOJ can spend its time more profitably checking out Hillary Clinton’s email, Uranium One, or Benghazi.