Washington (CNN)As he was preparing to remove Jeff Sessions as attorney general, President Donald Trump had already begun reviewing with his lawyers the written answers to questions from special counsel Robert Mueller.
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker once argued that an American president had such broad executive power that they could order any federal investigation be stopped without obstructing justice.
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In a 2017 interview on The David Webb Show, first reported by Mother Jones, Whitaker argued that, amid reports Trump had asked former FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, there was no case for obstruction of justice regardless of President Donald Trumps motives because the president is entitled to make such calls with his inherent authority.
Jeff Sessions resignation as attorney general on Wednesday sparked worries for the future of Muellers probe. Sessions vexed Trump by recusing himself from Muellers investigation in 2017, an act that Trump has berated him for throughout his presidency.
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The interview came shortly after Comey was fired by Trump and while Whitaker, then the head of a conservative nonprofit group, was a regular commentator on right-leaning media.
There is no case for obstruction of justice because the president has all the power of the executive and delegates that to people like the FBI director and the attorney general, Whitaker argued. The president could, and has in our nations history, said stop investigating this person or please investigate this other person.
He continued: This hyperventilation of what we see here is not sustainable based on these facts.
Sessions’ resignation, in a one-page letter to President Donald Trump, came one day after Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives and was the first of several expected post-midterms Cabinet and White House departures. Though Sessions was an early and prominent campaign backer of Trump, his departure letter lacked effusive praise for the president and made clear the resignation came “at your request.”
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Whitaker has already come under fire for deeply critical views of special counsel Robert Muellers probe that hed made in the past. In an interview with CNN in 2017, he argued that the inquiry could be kneecapped if the attorney general just reduces his budget so low that the investigation grinds almost to a halt. In a separate editorial for CNN, he wrote that Muellers team had already gone too close to a red-line during the scope of the probe.
It is time for Rosenstein, who is the acting attorney general for the purposes of this investigation, to order Mueller to limit the scope of his investigation to the four corners of the order appointing him special counsel. Whitaker wrote. If he doesnt, then Muellers investigation will eventually start to look like a political fishing expedition.
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Some prominent legal scholars have already lambasted the choice of Whitaker, including George Conway, the husband of White House adviser Kellyanne Conway. In an op-ed for The New York Times on Thursday, George Conway argued that the appointment was unconstitutional and accused the president of seeking to evade requirements that an attorney general be confirmed by the Senate.
Its illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid, Conway wrote with former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal K. Katyal.
Rosenstein has several severe conflicts of interest when it comes to the Mueller probe and the Obama administrations spygate efforts against President Trump and his associates. Rosenstein signed off on multiple Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications to extend surveillance on Trump campaign aide Carter Page, who was unfairly accused of being a Russian spy. The saga was only one instance of extreme overreach by members of the Obama administration. Rosenstein offered a weak wave-off of his role in the surveillance process, claiming he may not have read the whole FISA application before signing off on it.
Whitaker is legally allowed to serve as acting attorney general for no more than 210 days under the Vacancies Reform Act but could be in the post longer while another individuals nomination is pending, according to the Times.
Whitaker is a longtime critic of Muellers endless Russia probe, which has failed to produce a scintilla of evidence related to Russian collusion. He has previously suggested drastically reducing the budget of Muellers special counsel probe, in order to thwart Muellers threat to the presidents constitutional mandate. Whitaker has also argued that Mueller has overstepped his authority. As acting attorney general, he will be well positioned to rein in the special counsel.