In this April 24, 2014, file photo, then-Iowa Republican senatorial candidate and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker watches before a live televised debate in Johnston, Iowa. 
Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

Acting AG Whitaker gets a strange vote of confidence from Trump

Updated

The Rachel Maddow Show, 11/16/18, 9:00 PM ET

Whitaker disqualifications run deeper than sketchy work history

Rachel Maddow shares the latest reporting on Donald Trump’s acting-attorney general pick, Matt Whitaker, that make his qualifications seem that much more dubious, including Senator Mark Warner’s concerns about a conflict with the Mueller investigation
Almost immediately after Donald Trump named Matt Whitaker as the acting attorney general, many recognized the simple fact that the president had made an untenable choice. Within 48 hours of Whitaker’s appointment, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters, “I think this will be a very interim AG.”

Trump, however, doesn’t appear to be in much of a rush to nominate Jeff Sessions’ successor. During a brief Q&A with reporters on Saturday morning, the president fielded a question about whether he’d chosen a new attorney general.

“No, we haven’t,” he replied. “But I will tell you, until that decision is made, we have a great gentleman in Matt Whitaker. And everybody tells me he’s doing a fantastic job.”

A day later, Fox News aired its latest presidential interview, in which Chris Wallace reminded Trump of Whitaker’s condemnation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russia scandal, which Whitaker is now overseeing despite his public denunciations of the probe.

WALLACE: Did you know, before you appointed him, that he had that record and was so critical of Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: I did not know that. I did not know he took views on the Mueller investigation as such.

WALLACE: And when you found that out?

TRUMP: I don’t think it had any effect. If you look at those statements – those statements that can – they really can be viewed really either way.

The president said that if Whitaker tries to curtail the special counsel’s investigation, “it’s going to be up to him.” Trump added, “I would not get involved.”

Let’s unpack this.

It wasn’t long ago that Matt Whitaker was effectively an on-air pundit, peddling pro-Trump talking points during cable news appearances. It was part of a deliberate career strategy: CNN reported last week that Sam Clovis “encouraged him to get a regular commentary gig on cable television to get Trump’s attention.”

As a pundit, Whitaker was only too pleased to frequently condemn Mueller’s investigation in over-the-top ways, even referring to the special counsel’s team as “Mueller’s lynch mob.” The idea that his comments “can be viewed really either way” is absurd.

The Republican lawyer was then plucked from relative obscurity and given a plum job at the Justice Department – and at least for now, he’s the nation’s chief law enforcement official.

It’s implausible to think Trump had no idea what Whitaker thought of the Mueller probe. After all, Whitaker’s criticisms of Mueller were effectively his audition tape for a job in the administration. What’s more, there’s the inconvenient fact the president blurted out last week that Whitaker’s appointment was directly tied to Trump’s opposition to the special counsel’s investigation.

That admission makes his comments to Chris Wallace that much more difficult to believe.

As for the idea that Trump intends to take a hands-off posture if Whitaker tries to curtail the Mueller probe, this is starting to look like a political scheme that’s eating its own tail: Whitaker denounced the special counsel’s investigation, so Trump tapped Whitaker to oversee the special counsel’s investigation. Trump then pretends he had no idea what Whitaker’s position was, vowing that the White House won’t “get involved” in the acting AG’s oversight of the probe.

Except this is ridiculous because by tapping an anti-Mueller partisan to lead the Justice Department, the president has obviously already gotten “involved” in rather dangerous ways.

Postscript: If you missed Rachel’s A block on Friday about Whitaker and his disqualifications for his current post, it’s well worth your time.

Donald Trump and Justice Department

Acting AG Whitaker gets a strange vote of confidence from Trump

Updated