It's not a sentence one ordinarily expects to see in one of the nation's largest and most important newspapers: "The acting attorney general of the United States is a crackpot." And yet, that was the first sentence in the latest column from Ruth Marcus, the Washington Post's deputy editorial page editor.
It's a provocative assessment rooted deeply in fact. Matt Whitaker, whom Trump appointed as the nation's chief law enforcement official this week, is a rather ridiculous choice. We are, after all, talking about a shamelessly partisan loyalist, with a strange, far-right worldview, and with close ties to a witness who's testified in an ongoing federal investigation.
Whitaker has bashed the federal courts. He's condemned an investigation he's now overseeing -- and won't recuse himself from, despite calls from 18 state attorneys general. He's already decided what the outcome of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe should be. He's perhaps best known for having advised suspected con artists.
Complicating matters, Matthew Whitaker is the first attorney general -- acting or permanent -- to ever hold the position without having been confirmed to the Justice Department by the Senate. Many experts have made a very credible case that the president's appointment of Whitaker is plainly illegal.
The bottom line is unavoidable: this "crackpot" has no business overseeing the Justice Department of a global superpower.
All of which raises the question of how the president chose Whitaker for the position in the first place.
CNN had this interesting report yesterday:
It was not widely known among White House staff that he'd commented repeatedly on the special counsel's investigation in interviews and on television -- which is ironic given that this is what drew President Donald Trump to him and raises continued questions over the depth of the administration's vetting process.Sam Clovis, a 2016 Trump campaign national chairman who has close ties to Whitaker, encouraged him to get a regular commentary gig on cable television to get Trump's attention, according to friends Whitaker told at the time. Whitaker was hired as a CNN legal commentator last year for several months before leaving the role in September 2017 to head to the Justice Department.
Trump may not rely on intelligence reports, but he does rely heavily on his remote control. In this administration, the key to acquiring power and influence is appearing on the president's television -- and saying what Trump wants to hear.
Indeed, much of the pushback against Whitaker is predicated on the obvious fact that he's not qualified to oversee the Justice Department, even on a temporary basis. But in this White House, qualifications are irrelevant -- a fact Trump has made clear over and over again.
It's very easy to believe the White House did no meaningful vetting of Whitaker before the president made him acting attorney general because this White House doesn't seem to do meaningful vetting of practically anyone.
The result is a series of fiascos like this one.