Congress is back in session this week, which means that Republicans will again find themselves in the company of journalists, who will ask them their opinion of Matthew Whitaker’s suitability to act as the attorney general of the United States. Keep an ear peeled for what they say.
Actually, we know what they’ll say. Nothing. Maybe Jeff Flake and Bob Corker will tsk-tsk. Personally, I’ll be overjoyed to see those two gone. Watching their weak little protests (OK, except for that one Flake floor speech) has been far more annoying than just having another straight-up authoritarian in there like Marsha Blackburn. Now we just need to get Ben Sasse to stop all that quotidian moralizing about Trump on Twitter (or actually follow through on it with actions), and we’ll be getting somewhere.
Did you notice what Chris Christie said on ABC on Sunday morning about Whitaker? He said: “I think he's really there to land the Mueller investigation, to get it done… What the president's attempting to do here is to have someone who's already been involved, to get the Mueller investigation to its completion.”
Someone who’s what?! In what sense has Whitaker been “involved” in the Mueller investigation, aside from publicly trashing it on CNN? Whitaker has worked at the Justice Department since September 2017 as Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff, but he would have had no reason whatsoever to be involved in the Mueller probe. His boss, Sessions, recused himself. If Whitaker was in any way involved, doesn’t that mean that Sessions violated his recusal in some way?
In normal, pre-Trump America, this would have been the kind of matter Congress would have been interested in. Also Whitaker’s shady past, promoting a scam patent company that a federal judge shut down, and his statement that states could nullify federal laws (since after all he’s now the man whose job it is to enforce federal laws!), and his attempt when he was a U.S. Attorney to destroy an openly gay state senator in Iowa (a judge tossed the case citing prosecutorial misconduct), and his, ah, non-mainstream views on Marbury v. Madison, and who knows what else. Oh, and the nature of the conversations he had with Trump or other administration officials as the job was offered.
Will Charles Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which normally holds confirmation hearings on attorneys general, express the slightest interest in any of this? I guess I should allow for the possibility that he may surprise me. But this once-respectable-if-never-very-bright solon jumped the shark back when he was sending out dishonest tweets about Obamacare, and in the Trump era has devolved into being just another profile in cowardice.
Whitaker is there for one reason: to derail Mueller. He has already said he has no intention of recusing himself from the investigation, despite his obviously prejudicial past comments on CNN and elsewhere.
Stop and picture President Hillary Clinton’s campaign under investigation by an independent counsel. Her attorney general resigns, and in his place she appoints an acting AG under the Vacancies Act, an appointment that may well violate the Constitution and the Justice Department’s rules of succession. This AG has gone on television several times to say that the investigation was illegitimate. And even—a novelist would reject this detail as non-credible—that a real man attorney general would just defund it.
Can. You. Imagine? Republicans—no; all of Washington—would be going insane. Even Democrats would be saying they can’t defend this. But Republicans approve when Trump does it.
Republicans, judgment day is approaching. You have spent two years—three, if we count all the way back to Mexican Rapists Day in June 2015—praising Trump’s “exquisite” leadership and brushing aside his lies and assaults on democracy as no big deal. Nobody expects anything of you but cowardice.
Mitch McConnell not only has never stood up to Trump in any way that required any courage. He told President Obama in October 2016, remember, that if Obama made the fact of Russian election meddling public, McConnell would denounce such an announcement as partisan—in other words, choosing his party, and Donald Trump, over his country.
Then there’s Lindsey Graham, who some thought might grow some stones with his friend John McCain’s passing and work to become the conscience of the Senate. Instead, his behavior has been more like a hooligan at the Catholic orphanage who kinda sorta behaved as long as old Father Ryan was alive, but now that he’s gone, all bets are off. Don’t expect Graham to have much to say about Whitaker this week. Remember in late August, when Graham hung Sessions out to dry, saying Trump had the right to an attorney general he trusted, after having said the year before that there’d be “holy hell to pay” if Trump fired Sessions?
He did also say in August: “You have to replace him with somebody who is highly qualified and will commit to the Senate to allow [Mueller] to do his job. Nobody is going to take Jeff’s place that doesn’t commit to the Senate and the country as a whole that Mueller will be allowed to finish his job without political interference.” I hope he’s asked about this statement this week.
No, nobody expects anything of them except cowardice. But the moment may well be approaching when their entire reputation, and their party’s, will be settled for all of history. Donald Trump will shred the Constitution if he thinks that his political survival requires it. He has installed a henchman to head the Justice Department who agrees with him. Republican senators will have to decide if they want to be accomplices in that. We have good reason to fear the answer.