What’s going on with Matt Whittaker, the Acting Attorney General who is, I swear to God, actually Superman villain Lex Luthor, and not even in disguise (starts to make sense now, doesn’t it)?
See? Tell me he isn’t Lex.
Whittaker’s almost certainly unconstitutional appointment had me and a few others all in a lather a while back, as he was transparently an unqualified Trump crony, obviously installed by The Donald to impede or outright thwart the Mueller investigation, something he’d repeatedly and publicly said ought to be done, by one of several possible means he was pleased to explain.
So where’s all the impeding and thwarting?
We know that he’s seen no reason to recuse himself from oversight of the Mueller probe, though most ethicists think he should, based on his professed animus to the investigation. The most recent word is that he’s actually done an end-run around internal advice from the lawyers at Justice, advice he deliberately sought in a manner that ensured it’s not a formal opinion, and could therefore be ignored when he didn’t like the inevitable answer that yes, he should recuse – a bold and fundamentally corrupt move that could place him in grave legal peril, and seems worth the risk only if he’s determined to do Trump’s bidding. Yet it’s also reported that nonetheless, Rod Rosenstein continues to run the investigation day to day, which from a bureaucratic, organizational perspective would be normal procedure. But Matt’s not there to ensure the continued adherence to normal procedure. Is he?
Well, no, but maybe that’s become his intention, now that he takes a sober look at the pros and cons of aiding and abetting Trump’s extra-curricular activities. It’s quite possible that Matt’s decided, what with several court cases going forward challenging his appointment (the status of which I’m finding difficult to pin down), and a Democrat named Nadler about to take over the House Judiciary Committee, with both the authority and the inclination to ask some very pointed questions under oath and pain of criminal penalty, that it’s really best to just serve out his tenure as a place-holder. He’s flouting the ethics rules. He’s illegitimate. He could be nailed himself for obstructing justice. The first move he makes in the direction of squelching Mueller might bring FBI agents to pound on his door. Yikes! Better to lay low and let his successor be appointed, maybe? Maybe lingering anti-climax is the way this chapter of the Trump Disaster plays out.
If so, you’d expect The Donald to be blowing two gaskets. It’s hard to imagine that Trump is content to have Whittaker do nothing but maintain a despised status quo, what with the walls starting to cave in all around him. Yet no news has emerged of Whittaker being pressured to do anything like veto Mueller’s request to seek a subpoena, or put a stop to the indictment of yet another Trump henchman, Roger Stone, say. Mueller seems to be chugging along unperturbed, having just won a decision allowing him to subpoena the records of an unnamed foreign-owned enterprise – a move that suggests investigation of money-laundering, something that ought to terrify Trump – and everything is proceeding as if he’s going to issue his hotly-anticipated report as planned, and all will be known.
Maybe Trump is just biding his time, figuring it isn’t necessary, yet, to make any drastic move. Maybe he’s decided he’ll cross the bridge of suppressing Mueller’s report when he gets to it. Maybe he’s beginning to realize that the spreading and increasingly co-mingling ink blots of Mueller’s work, the various State-level investigations, and the coming fusillade from a subpoena-wielding Democratic Congress, have overtaken his ability to do anything about it any longer. Perhaps Trump is thinking of a different end game, these days, in which he does something like resign and collect a pardon from Pence (which won’t save him from all the State-level investigations into his entire career of shady dealings).
Or maybe this is just a lull before all the big guns start firing.
Whittaker may thus simply be waiting for the go-code. Or, the turning point may not come until Trump nominates his new, permanent A.G., and the confirmation process gets over with. It’s widely expected that someone who’s filled the role before, a fellow named William Barr, formerly the A.G. under Bush the Elder, will be getting the nod. Barr would in other times be an uncontroversial choice, being, unusually for a Trump appointee, fully qualified, and neither overtly corrupt nor obviously moronic. However, Barr is known to hold beliefs about Mueller’s work that must be music to Trump’s ringing ears.
This is from an article in the Intelligencer, an arm of New York magazine:
A partial answer to the mystery [of Barr’s likely appointment] is that Barr has publicly defended Trump on several of his pet issues. He endorsed the firing of James Comey, called for investigation of the Clinton Foundation, impugned the neutrality of Robert Mueller’s investigators, and defended Trump’s practice of demanding investigations of his enemies. Barr has a record as one of the members of the Republican legal Establishment most indulgent of Trump’s conspiratorial mafia ethos.
But a new report in the Wall Street Journal suggests more complete answer. Earlier this year, Barr wrote a lengthy memo excoriating Mueller’s investigation of Trump for obstruction of justice. Mueller’s investigation was “grossly irresponsible,” had “potentially disastrous implications,” and other choice descriptions spread over 20 pages culled from public reports. This memo was completely unsolicited.
Trump may thus be tolerant of Whittaker’s inaction because a zealous and willing anti-Mueller warrior waits in the wings. I can imagine a scene like this:
Trump: Matt, I want you to fire Mueller.
Whittaker: Too dangerous!
Trump: O.K., but slow him down as much as you can, and then bury whatever report he writes.
Whittaker: I’m afraid!
Trump: Fuck, fine, I’ll get Barr to do it. Jesus Fucking Christ, who do I gotta blow to get somebody to follow goddam orders around here!?
Or something like that. If that’s the idea, he’d better hope Barr sails through confirmation, which might not be the slam dunk we’d usually expect in the Republican-controlled Senate. One senses fissures beginning to spread in Donald’s Congressional foundation.
Of course, we don’t know what Whittaker might be doing already behind the scenes to help Trump out. He may be feeding the Trump legal team inside information on what Mueller’s got, for example, though that would be extremely risky, and he may be impeding Mueller, via orders to Rosenstein, in ways too subtle to have exploded yet into public view, also extremely risky. I’m doubtful. This is the leakiest White House in history, by a country mile, and if that sort of skullduggery was going on, there should at least be rumours flying around.
It’s damned near maddening, isn’t it? It’s like we’ve been waiting for the next season of Game of Thrones to begin. Last we saw, the die was cast, the armies were in motion, and vast forces were on a collision course toward an epochal confrontation. Holy Humping Lannisters! The Night King just got himself an undead dragon! He’s breached the Wall! Oh, man, shit is going to hit the fan now, you betcha!
Then the first episode of the climactic season has the Night King order the army to bivouac while he feeds and waters the frigging dragon before toddling off to have a nap? WHAT? It makes you want to throw your popcorn at the screen.
The cause of this lull may be straightforward. Trump seems distracted by budget battles just now, and Donald isn’t known for his multi-tasking bandwidth. He’s got to focus now on another great big fish to fry, because Congress keeps refusing to fund his bloody Wall, and it’s starting to look like Build That Wall is the one promise Trump’s Base is going to insist he keeps. If there’s one thing that frightens Trump more than Mueller, it’s wavering in the Base. The Base must be placated. Without the Base, Congressional Republicans no longer fear him and his toxic tweets, and Trump must be able to exploit that fear to be strong enough for the battles ahead. Yet now dark clouds are lurking on the horizon. The likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh are excoriating Donald for his failure to deliver the Wall. The rest of the war may just have to wait until he consolidates his forces by feeding the Base its beloved, bigoted barrier against the invading brown people, if he can.
Tune in again next week when the Night King dispatches a squad of White Walkers to rustle up some sheep for his hungry dragon!
UPDATE: Stories reported in the few days after this was posted indicated that Trump was expressing frustration with Whittaker, especially over the ongoing saga of Michael Cohen, but was not thought to have issued any orders to his acting A.G. – yet.