Among the many problems with Matt Whitaker’s role as acting attorney general is his background as a media pundit. The man who’s now the nation’s chief law enforcement official is suddenly in a position where he’s overseeing federal investigations he’s condemned as a television commentator – including Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of the Russia scandal.
During a Q&A with reporters this morning, someone asked the president about Whitaker’s record of provocative public comments as a pundit. He responded by suggesting that “everybody” who’d be considered to lead the Justice Department has been an on-air commentator.
“I see everybody on television – all these lawyers, all these law enforcement people making comment after comment. They never ask to get recused. They make comment. The fact that you go on Fox or CNN or MSNBC or anybody, and you make a comment, you’d have nobody left to choose. You would have absolutely nobody left.
“I see different people, at different times, going on shows. Am I supposed to say, ‘Oh, now he’s never qualified to serve in government?’ So, all the time I’m watching many different people go on many different shows, saying many different things. That doesn’t mean they’re unqualified. […]
“[Whitaker] did some shows; so did many of the people that you’re talking about. So did everybody that – you’re talking about a permanent position. I think everybody looking at a permanent position, in any department, has done many shows. Does that mean we can’t hire anybody?”
As Aaron Rupar joked, “Trump argues it’s unfair to expect him to choose people for top [Justice Department] jobs who aren’t TV pundits, because everybody is a TV pundit.”
That’s funny, but it’s not really an exaggeration. The president’s approach follows a certain logic:
1. Prominent legal figures regularly pontificate on television.
2. The attorney general should be a prominent legal figure.
3. Ergo, Trump must choose an attorney general he’s seen pontificating on television.
The idea that a qualified person to serve as attorney general hasn’t spent a lot of time on television apparently hasn’t occurred to Trump.
In 1995, Nicole Kidman’s character in a movie called “To Die For,” says, “You’re not really anybody in America unless you’re on TV.” The president may have taken that line a bit too literally.