When it rains, it pours... and when it comes to shakeups in the Trump administration, it's basically a monsoon. Less than 24 hours after Republicans lost control of one chamber of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections, President Donald Trump shook up the executive branch as well, effectively firing his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. In a tweet, Trump announced that Sessions would be temporarily replaced by Matthew Whitaker, who would be acting attorney general until a new attorney general could be confirmed. But with the announcement, everyone is bringing up Matthew Whitaker's history, and particularly what he's said about the Russia investigation. Elite Daily reached out to the White House and the Department of Justice (DOJ) for comment on the resignation, but did not immediately hear back.
Whitaker is currently Sessions' chief of staff, and on Wednesday Nov. 7, the president announced via Twitter that he would take over the Justice Department on a temporary basis following Sessions' resignation, which, according to the attorney general's resignation letter, was demanded by Trump himself. Per The New York Times, Whitaker served as United States attorney for the Southern District of Iowa from 2004 to 2009 before unsuccessfully running for Senate in 2014. But after the shakeup, many people quickly found an opinion piece he had previously written about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia — and it did not bode well for Mueller.
In August 2017, Whitaker wrote an op-ed for CNN in which he expressed the opinion that the Mueller investigation had gone too far in reportedly looking into the Trump Organization's — and the Trump family's — finances, which he called "beyond the scope of the appointment of the special counsel." The op-ed also echoed Trump's own words about the investigation, saying that by potentially investigating the Trump finances the investigation would raise concerns that it was a "witch hunt" and called for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the investigation, to limit what it could look into.
The president has long been on the outs with his previous attorney general, Sessions, over his recusal from overseeing the Mueller investigation. Trump has repeatedly attacked Mueller's probe, calling it a "witch hunt," biased, and more. Sessions' recusal meant that oversight of the investigation was handed off to Rosenstein, who has steadfastly supported the investigation despite the president's attempts to discredit or undermine it.
Now, as acting attorney general, Whitaker will likely have oversight. “The Acting Attorney General is in charge of all matters under the purview of the Department of Justice,” a spokesperson for the DOJ told CNBC. The DOJ did not immediately respond to Elite Daily's request for comment.
Given the timing of the change, this may be the start of a brand new form of political drama. Following the Democratic party reclaiming the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats will likely make moves to protect the Mueller investigation's ability to proceed unimpeded.
So political wrangling, political showdown, or political theater? Time will tell. But Mueller might want to start looking over his shoulder.