Judd Legum at popular.info reports on Trump’s slow-motion version of the Saturday night Massacre - a Wednesday afternoon massacre.
Nixon got his justice department to fire special prosecutor Cox. Trump won’t make the same mistake. He won’t fire Mueller. Instead, he’ll get the same result by changing who Mueller reports to and thereby limiting the Russia investigation.
Just hours after the polls closed, President Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump has had it in for Sessions ever since March 2017, when Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation. That decision, in turn, led to the appointment of Robert Mueller.
Trump’s move, which has been telegraphed for months, is an apparent effort to curtail Mueller’s investigation just as it reaches a critical stage. Mueller is expected to either issue additional indictments or produce a report, which the Justice Department will have to decide whether or not to make public.
Trump announced that Sessions would be replaced, on a temporary basis, by Matthew G. Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff.
According to Bloomberg, Trump has removed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein from his role overseeing Mueller’s investigation. Whitaker is now in charge. If that report is accurate, Whitaker will be able to block Mueller from issuing any indictments Whitaker believes are outside Mueller’s purview.
The move is reminiscent of the Saturday Night Massacre, when President Richard Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliott Richardson to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson refused and resigned. Then Nixon issued the same directive to Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who also refused and resigned. In the end, Solicitor General Robert Bork fired Cox.
John Dean, Nixon’s former White House Counsel, said Wednesday’s events were worse.
“Unlike the Saturday Night Massacre…that was sort of a culmination of disregard for the president’s direction not to go after his tapes. Here, this seems to be planned like a murder,” Dean said on CNN.
Meet the new boss
Whitaker’s appointment is notable because he has been an outspoken critic of Mueller.
Shortly before joining the Justice Department, Whitaker wrote a column in August 2017 entitled, “Mueller’s investigation of Trump is going too far.”
In the piece, Whitaker argued that “investigating Donald Trump’s finances or his family’s finances falls completely outside of the realm of his 2016 campaign and allegations that the campaign coordinated with the Russian government or anyone else. That goes beyond the scope of the appointment of the special counsel.”
Mueller is “only authorized to investigate matters that involved any potential links to and coordination between two entities – the Trump campaign and the Russian government,” Whitaker writes. This cramped definition of Mueller’s authority has been rejected by the courts. Paul Manafort unsuccessfully made the same argument in an attempt to get the charges against him dismissed.
On Twitter, Whitaker favorably cited a piece describing Mueller’s investigators as a “lynch mob.”
In July 2017, Whitaker suggested that an acting Attorney General could reduce Muller’s “budget to so low that his investigations grind to almost a halt.”
Whitaker also chaired Sam Clovis’ campaign for Iowa State Treasurer. Clovis is a witness in the Mueller investigation
Whitaker could attempt to fire Mueller for cause, but he also has a lot of options to kneecap the investigation without resorting to such a drastic measure. …
In 2016, Whitaker wrote an op-ed saying that he would indict Hillary Clinton, something Trump has called for repeatedly. Previously, Whitaker headed up the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, an organization that spent much of its time investigating Clinton.
In short order, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called for Whitaker to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
“Given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation, Mr. Whitaker should recuse himself from its oversight for the duration of his time as acting attorney general,” Schumer said.
Republicans are “concerned”
We have been told for nearly two years that if Trump moved to undermine the Mueller investigation, as he did on Wednesday, Republicans would spring into action and protect Mueller’s independence.
Instead, a couple of Republican Senators issued milquetoast tweets expressing “concern.”
Sen. Susan Collins
It is imperative that the Administration not impede the Mueller investigation. I’m concerned Rod Rosenstein will no longer be overseeing the probe. Special Counsel Mueller must be allowed to complete his work without interference—regardless of who is AG.
November 7 2018
“Concerned?” I wonder if she has enough “concern” to weather the next two years in which Trump promises a “war-like posture.” More on that in another post.