On the surface, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has a fairly respectable resume. He earned masters and law degrees at the University of Iowa, and even caught a touchdown pass for the Hawkeyes during the 1991 Rose Bowl. He was the US Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa from 2004 to 2009, when he resigned after the election of Barack Obama. Whitaker ran against Joni Ernst in the 2014 Republican Senate primary but was beaten like a gong. He rejoined the DoJ in August of 2017 and became Sessions’s chief of staff.
It is this last bit that serves to dent the boilerplate legal-beagle credentials Whitaker has amassed during his career, because his posting at the right hand of Jeff Sessions was almost certainly not an accident. According to The New York Times, “People close to Mr. Trump believe that he sent Mr. Whitaker to the department in part to limit the fallout from the Mueller investigation, one presidential adviser said.”
How did Matt Whitaker manage to land a gig as Trump’s secret squirrel within the Justice Department? Like as not, his many television appearances and opinion articles lambasting the Mueller investigation lifted his profile like a feather in an updraft. Trump loves his loyalists (until he doesn’t), and Whitaker carried Trump’s anti-Mueller water with enthusiasm. “It is time for [Rod] Rosenstein, who is the acting attorney general for the purposes of this investigation, to order Mueller to limit the scope of his investigation to the four corners of the order appointing him special counsel,” wrote Whitaker in an August 2017 CNN editorial.
Given the gravity of the Mueller investigation, Whitaker’s appointment by Trump as acting attorney general – which places him in direct control of that investigation – has inspired howls of dismay from many quarters. The Washington Post editorial board, echoing a broad swath of opinion on the matter, declared flatly that “Mr. Whitaker is unfit for the job.”
A number of troubling matters validate this concern beyond Whitaker’s vocal disdain for Mueller and his labors. Legal scholars argue his elevation to his current post is unconstitutional on its face. His opinions on bedrock Supreme Court cases call his legal judgment seriously into question. For one example, Whitaker disagrees with the decision in Marbury v. Madison, the case that set the judicial branch as the final arbiters of the Constitution. Without Marbury, there is no separation of powers, and without the separation of powers there is only the clown show we have endured these last two years. That’s not an accident, either.
Whitaker’s stance on states’ rights is notably troubling. The subject of Obamacare came up during a round of questions after a speech he delivered during his 2014 Senate campaign. “Now we need to remember that the states set up the federal government and not vice versa,” he said. “And so the question is, do we have the political courage in the state of Iowa or some other state to nullify Obamacare and pay the consequences for that?”
In short, according to the man currently in charge of the federal Department of Justice, the states have the right to overthrow any federal laws they deem unacceptable. Federal laws provide protections for millions of people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community and others who might otherwise become subject to the cruelties of the current hard-right ethos dominating too many states. It is unfathomable that the top federal law enforcement official in the nation believes he can abdicate those responsibilities to the states, but there was Whitaker not only saying it, but campaigning on it. There are good reasons he got whooped four years ago, and this was one of them.
Whitaker’s history as a hard-right conservative with serious political ambitions is also cause for deep anxiety. “As a candidate,” reports The New Yorker, “he publicly declared that judges should be ‘people of faith’ who had ‘a biblical view of justice.’ In practical terms, he has interpreted the biblical view of justice the way most of his fellow Christian conservatives do: a combination of stern, Old Testament punishments meted out to Democrats combined with New Testament forgiveness toward any sin by a Republican.”
Finally, Whitaker might just be a damn crook. In 2014, he joined the board of a Florida-based company called World Patent Marketing (WPM). The Federal Trade Commission described WPM as “a scam that has bilked thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars” in 2017, when a federal court in Miami shut them down and froze their assets. “According to court filings,” reports ABC News, “the FTC alleged that the company lured in customers by publishing fraudulent ‘success stories,’ failed to deliver on promises, and took drastic measures to suppress negative reviews.” Curiously, Whitaker stepped down from the board that very same year.
Worse for Whitaker, it was revealed last week that WPM is under criminal investigation by the FBI, one of the agencies overseen by the person in Whitaker’s current position. When that story popped, the White House was forced to admit Whitaker had not been vetted before his appointment, and Trump began doing his standard don’t-know-him-never-heard-of-him-fake-news dance to distance himself from yet another scumbag in his employ.
The problem with Trump’s attempt at distance came in the guise of no less a light than Trumpian heat shield Kellyanne Conway. “The president does know Matt Whitaker,” Conway told Fox News two days after the FBI investigation report came out, “has gotten to know him over the course of the last year, since he has been the chief of staff to the attorney general.”
Gotta read those interoffice memos, Kellyanne. This one was important.
The case against Matthew Whitaker serving as acting attorney general is airtight. His appointment is of profoundly dubious legality. He has, with his own words, vexed his ability to allow a vital and impartial investigation to run its proper course. His hard-right Christian worldview make him an unacceptable choice for the nation’s top law enforcement post. The FTC within his own government and the FBI within his own shop have been sniffing hard around his business dealings.
Finally, Matthew Whitaker is unacceptable because Donald Trump wants him right where he is. Trump would like Whitaker to burn the Mueller investigation down to the stumps; Jeff Sessions (highly hazardous in his own right) got the post-election here’s-your-hat treatment because he would not. Unless he is stopped, Whitaker will do precisely that. Newly minted House committee chairmen Jerrold Nadler and Adam Schiff have promised to make Whitaker their top priority after the new year. Here’s to hoping they follow through.