Although his successor Attorney General William Barr has been dominating the news the past few days, the man who filled in as the acting head of the Justice Department between the
firing “resignation” of Jeff Sessions and Barr’s confirmation, Matthew Whitaker, is back in the spotlight today.
The last we heard of former Acting Attorney General Whitaker was a few weeks ago when without explanation he abruptly quit the Justice Department position that he had agreed to step into after Barr claimed his new role.
Now, according to an article in The New York Review of Books, the reasons for Whitaker’s sudden departure have been made clear and they have everything to do with Congressional inquiries into his interactions with President Trump about Justice Department investigations into the president, his family, and his company being conducted by federal prosecutors in multiple jurisdictions, but especially the Southern District of New York where the indictment of his former attorney Michael Cohen has left Trump particularly vulnerable.
Once the Inspector General at the Department of Justice began to be swamped with requests to investigate Whitaker’s actions while he was Acting Attorney General, Whitaker saw the handwriting on the wall. After realizing that the Inspector General would have no jurisdiction to question him if he were not working for the Justice Department, Whitaker beat a hasty exit from the department.
According to Murray Waas at The New York Review of Books:
“A senior Justice Department official in whom Whitaker confided about the matter told me that Whitaker expressed serious concerns over testifying about conversations that he had with the president about the SDNY’s investigation. Whitaker apparently did not understand that by taking a new job with the Justice Department, he could be required to discuss those conversations with the Inspector General. Whitaker, I was told, seemed relieved to learn that after he left the department, he likely could not be compelled to cooperate. Whitaker then sought out other Justice Department officials, this person told me, to determine whether there was any current investigation by the Inspector General at the time. Told that there was not one, but might be one soon, Whitaker resigned.”
“In one of Whitaker’s conversations (as acting attorney general) with the president, which Whitaker conveyed to others, Trump had questioned him as to whether the SDNY had been overzealous or unfair in its handling of Michael Cohen, a former executive vice president of the Trump Organization, the president’s personal attorney, and “fixer.” Whitaker’s account of that conversation may be crucial to investigators because the president also asked Whitaker if anything could be done to rein in the SDNY’s investigation.”
With his successor having arbitrarily taken on the responsibility of clearing Trump of obstruction charges after Special Counsel Mueller refused to make a determination — reportedly over disagreements with internal Justice Department policies — Whitaker’s testimony about his conversations with the president are crucial to determining whether Barr’s decision was legitimate or merely a part of his pattern of covering up for the misdeeds of the presidents he serves.
While Whitaker may have escaped the clutches of the Justice Department’s Inspector General with his flash resignation, he still is subject to congressional subpoena and, given the questions about the ultimate accuracy of his weasely oh-so-carefully worded responses in his last congressional appearance, it shouldn’t take too long before the process server is knocking on his door.
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Original reporting by Murray Waas at The New York Review of Books.