Matt Whitaker, the just appointed Acting Attorney General, has no intention of recusing himself from the Mueller investigation, according to the Washington Post.
“Since stepping into his new role Wednesday, Whitaker has faced questions — principally from Democrats — about whether he should recuse himself from the Russia investigation, given that he has written opinion pieces about the investigation and is a friend and political ally of a witness.”
That witness would be Sam Clovis, who once worked as a Trump campaign adviser and is a friend of Whitaker. Whitaker has written, and talked on TV about how the Mueller investigation may have exceeded its mandate. So, as you might imagine, alarm bells are suddenly sounding among many Democrats who are concerned what Whitaker could do to shut down the special council investigation.
Whaddaya know: Mark Whitaker, now in charge of the Mueller investigation, chaired the 2014 campaign of Sam Clovis, a grand jury witness in that investigation. https://t.co/NzUkgjwOp1
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) November 7, 2018
Well, maybe not so fast. We bring you a great read from Asha Rangappa, a frequent social media contributor who actually knows what she’s talking about. She’s a former FBI agent who is currently a senior lecturer at Yale. She is also a contributor to CNN on national security issues. Below is her take, somewhat optimistic perhaps, but a great read nonetheless on what will happen with Whitaker. Rangappa posted this thread on Twitter and has graciously agreed to allow us to post it here:
1.STEP DOWN FROM THE LEDGE (FOR NOW) THREAD. (Warning: This might be a SPOOL). OK, here are my thoughts on Whitaker taking over the Mueller investigation and why I think we need to see how things unfold before losing it. To be clear, I do NOT think this is an ideal situation. BUT:
2. First, Whitaker has spoken and written publicly on the Mueller investigation. This clearly creates an appearance of a conflict of interest. He must consult with the ethics people as his former boss did and, if it is warranted, recuse. Period. But assuming he does not:
3. First, as a commentator/pundit, you’re expected to have an opinion on a given issue. But as discussed in the context of Strzok, et al., keep in mind that there is a very strong culture in DOJ to not let these views infect decisions. As a former USA, Whitaker knows this culture
4. Further, he has to document these decisions. The standard in the Special Counsel regulations for denying a request or recommendation of the Special Counsel is that it is “so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued.”
5. Whitaker would have to document and justify his decisions under this standard, knowing (especially with Dems in control of the House) that he would have to testify to them under oath. Flimsy or corrupt justifications would open him up to obstruction of justice.
6. Even if he wanted to “starve the investigation,” the SC regs state that the budget for the coming year must be approved within 90 days of the fiscal year. The fiscal year already started on October 1, and so the budget is in place until Sept ’19. The next approval is in June ’19.
7. Another objection he made publicly is that going into Trump’s finances would be crossing a red line. Remember that Mueller farmed out the Cohen case to SDNY. That is likely the thread that leads to the Trump Org, and it is not under Mueller. So that should not be an issue.
8. Important to keep in mind that his comments were made when he, like the rest of us, only knew what was public — which, in summer ’17, wasn’t much. Since then, we’ve had indictments and guilty pleas on Manafort, Gates, Flynn, Papadopolous, Cohen, and a bunch of Russians.
9. The amount of evidence that has been accumulated in an investigation of this scale cannot be overstated. Which brings it back to how hard it will be for him to justify blocking further steps under the standard outlined in #4, above. Not happening.
10. Also, at a personal level, until now his loyalty as Chief of Staff has been to Sessions — someone he saw get berated, insulted, pressured, and humiliated by POTUS. He may have seen more cray behind the scenes. I wouldn’t count on his loyalty suddenly switching to POTUS.
11. Which brings me to: What would be the payoff? He’s not going to be AG, this is temporary. If he has political ambitions he is much better off with Sessions as an ally and being respected in DOJ than hitching his wagon to Trump’s (falling) star.