Did Trump Bother to Vet Whitaker At All?

Donald Trump’s illegal and unconstitutional naming of Matthew Whitaker as “Acting Attorney General” would be almost comedic if it weren’t so deadly serious for the fate of our democracy.

The president knew that Democrats would likely take over the House, granting them investigatory power to look into his wrongdoing. He knew that, after the traditional months of silence and inaction by Special Counsel Mueller amid an election, the wheels of the Justice Department would once again crank into motion with fury. He knew that the special counsel’s probe would likely soon ensnare even more of his top lieutenants, even his eldest son. And he was incensed at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for failing to use the Justice Department as a blast shield to protect him from the explosive consequences of his crimes.

Trump needed to have a plan for the day after the election. He had to fire Sessions and try to constrain Mueller. The plan, apparently, was to replace Sessions with a wholly unvetted scam artist and wackadoo legal extremist. Trump liked his football player’s physique, enjoyed his articles defending the president on far-right websites, and lauded his laughably aggressive performances on television.

Just a day’s worth of media scrutiny after the appointment has led to a cavalcade of embarrassment.

Whitaker was an advisory board member and promotional advocate for a company under investigation by the FBI for scamming aspirational inventors out of a collective $26 million in exchange for no real services or benefits. He believes in the kooky legal theory of 10th amendment nullification of the federal government by the states, a question that was essentially resolved by the Civil War. He was involved as an attorney in the clearly political prosecution of a gay lawmaker in Iowa. Whitaker was advising the White House to launch its own special counsel investigation of Hillary Clinton for the purposes of revenge and muddying the waters. He declared that judges should have a “Biblical view” of the law first, that secular nominees should be not supported on principle, and that Marbury v Madison was wrongly decided.

The entirely predictable uproar over Whitaker’s appointment led to the Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus calling him a “crackpot,” an usually blunt and biting appellation for the man in charge of enforcing the nation’s laws.

Even more shocking is that this furor seemed to come as a surprise to the Trump Administration:

There is a growing sense of concern inside the White House over the negative reaction to Matthew Whitaker being tapped as acting attorney general after Jeff Sessions’ abrupt firing.

Whitaker, who was Sessions’s chief of staff, has faced criticism since Wednesday afternoon’s announcement for his previous comments on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Several senior officials told CNN they were surprised by the criticism, and believe it could potentially jeopardize Whitaker’s chances of remaining in the post if it continues to dominate headlines …

It was not widely known among White House staff that he’d commented repeatedly on the special counsel’s investigation in interviews and on television — which is ironic given that this is what drew President Trump to him and raises continued questions over the depth of the administration’s vetting process.

Also, there’s this:

Sam Clovis, a 2016 Trump campaign national chairman who has close ties to Whitaker, encouraged him to get a regular commentary gig on cable television to get Trump’s attention, according to friends Whitaker told at the time. Whitaker was hired as a CNN legal commentator last year for several months before leaving the role in September 2017 to head to the Justice Department.

That same Sam Clovis has been talking to Robert Mueller and the grand jury as part of the investigation, a fact that also makes Whitaker hopelessly compromised in dealing with the investigation he is now tasked with overseeing.

It would be one thing if the White House had knowingly prepared all this, picked the most hardline bull-in-a-china-shop they could find, and then prepared to brazen out the fallout as their best in a series of bad options. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. It appears that they sort of knew what they were getting, but not entirely, because they didn’t bother to vet or investigate the guy they were counting on to protect the president from possible impeachment and criminal indictment.

How is that even possible?

Bob Mueller, meanwhile, is said to be holding dozens of sealed indictments. As Louis Pasteur used to say, “Fortune favors the prepared.”

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.