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

Whitaker at the center of controversies that are tough to explain away

There’s a long list of reasons Matt Whitaker was an absurd choice for acting attorney general, but among the most serious problems is his record of public condemnations of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which he’s now overseeing. Indeed, the Justice Department’s career ethics specialists recommended to Whitaker that he recuse himself from the ongoing criminal probe.

He didn’t. In fact, we learned last week that the Trump appointee used his position to “clear himself” to supervise the investigation he opposes.

The next day, Whitaker’s position became even more controversial when CNN reported that Donald Trump has “vented” to the acting attorney general about his frustrations over the criminal case against Michael Cohen.

The first known instance took place when Trump made his displeasure clear to acting attorney general Matt Whitaker after Cohen pleaded guilty November 29 to lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow. Whitaker had only been on the job a few weeks following Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions.

Over a week later, Trump again voiced his anger at Whitaker after prosecutors in Manhattan officially implicated the President in a hush-money scheme to buy the silence of women around the 2016 campaign – something Trump fiercely maintains isn’t an illegal campaign contribution. Pointing to articles he said supported his position, Trump pressed Whitaker on why more wasn’t being done to control prosecutors in New York who brought the charges in the first place, suggesting they were going rogue.

According to the report, Trump didn’t direct the acting A.G. to stop the investigation, but rather, he expressed his frustration over charges filed by federal prosecutors Whitaker ostensibly oversees.

That hardly makes things better.

We are, after all, talking about a criminal case involving the president’s former personal attorney, in which the president has been directly implicated. It seems painfully obvious that he shouldn’t be discussing the case – at all, ever – with the attorney general.

Trump’s indifference toward the independence of federal law enforcement is one of the defining features of his presidency. As the president’s scandals mount, it’s discouraging to think the problem is intensifying.

Postscript: The president argued via Twitter on Christmas Eve that the CNN report is a “made up story,” but if recent history has taught us anything, it’s that Trump’s denials should generally be taken with a grain of salt.

Donald Trump and Justice Department

Whitaker at the center of controversies that are tough to explain away