Unsurprisingly, according to CNN, President Trump twice chewed out his Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker for not doing more to control prosecutors in the Manhattan US Attorney’s Office. This happened first when Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress at the end of November and then again a week later when prosecutors implicated President Trump in a number of felonies.
“Pointing to articles he said supported his position, Trump pressed Whitaker on why more wasn’t being done to control prosecutors in New York who brought the charges in the first place, suggesting they were going rogue.”
Needless to say, this is completely inappropriate and verges on obstruction in and of itself. But what’s just as telling is how ineffective Whitaker seems to have been in his primary mission of shutting down investigations that would embarrass or endanger the President.
Of course, we don’t know what else might be happening. But this tends to confirm my overall sense of Whitaker’s appointment. It is clear as day that Jeff Sessions was fired and replaced by Whitaker because Trump wanted an AG who would represent him and protect him. That was the plan. Whitaker was clearly down with that plan and very clearly lobbied for the job as someone who could deliver.
The bigger picture though is that Robert Mueller and to a lesser but still significant extent Rod Rosenstein are major DC law enforcement and national security heavyweights who have a lot of clout, reputation and experience. Whitaker meanwhile is basically a punk – a short term US Attorney at one of the smaller regional offices who has spent most of his career in low budget hustles and fraudulent enterprises. He was quickly overtaken by his own scandals and possible legal jeopardy. He likely had his hands full protecting himself and had neither the time nor the ability to act effectively on Trump’s behalf.
I don’t say any of this to be pollyannaish. It is entirely possible that as the pressure continues to mount, Trump will trigger some kind of constitutional crisis by firing Mueller or doing something related. But to date he seems to lack both the nerve to take the decisive act and the guile or skill to grind the probe to a halt without leaving any fingerprints.