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Over 400 Former DOJ Officials Say They’re “Disturbed” by Matthew Whitaker’s Appointment



More than 400 Justice Department alumni have signed a statement criticizing President Donald Trump’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general.

“Because of our respect for our oaths of office and our personal experiences carrying out the Department’s mission, we are disturbed by the President’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker to serve as Acting Attorney General,” write the signatories, who have served under Senate-confirmed Attorneys General from both sides of the political aisle. They note that “Mr. Whitaker has not been confirmed by the Senate, his qualifications to be the nation’s chief law enforcement officer have not been publicly reviewed, and he has not been fully vetted for any potential conflicts of interest.”

The signatories––a list which includes former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks––point out that because of “the profound responsibilities the position entails and the independence it requires, it can only be filled by someone who has been subjected to the strictest scrutiny under the process required by the Constitution.”

The officials are calling on President Trump “to follow the Constitutional process by nominating an Attorney General, and replacing Mr. Whitaker as Acting Attorney General with the Senate-confirmed official who is next in the line of succession by operation of federal law” and “likewise call on the Senate to insist that its Constitutional prerogative to provide advice and consent be respected.”

Whitaker’s appointment has been mired in controversy from the moment he took office November 7, shortly after the president ousted former attorney general Jeff Sessions. Whitaker was Sessions’ chief of staff, but was not in a Senate-confirmed position; his appointment has thus been subjected to multiple legal challenges in federal courts, including the Supreme Court. The Justice Department has defended Whitaker’s appointment amid calls from the president’s critics that Whitaker recuse himself from overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference, citing conflicts of interest.

Sources close to Whitaker have said he has no plans to recuse himself from the investigation. Former FBI Director James Comey, whom President Trump fired in May 2017, has expressed concerns that Whitaker would be able to derail the special counsel’s investigation. In response, Democrats poised to assume chairmanships of key House committees in 2019 have cautioned the Justice Department to preserve records related to the special counsel’s investigation and the circumstances surrounding Sessions’ firing.

Whitaker, a Trump loyalist, has been described as the White House’s “eyes and ears” in the Justice Department, with which the president has repeatedly sparred. President Trump claimed “I don’t know Matt Whitaker” shortly after Whitaker’s appointment, contradicting his own statements as well as reports that he spoke to Whitaker as early as September 2018 about assuming Sessions’ role as Attorney General. The president has often criticized Sessions, who fell out of favor after he recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation once his own Russian ties––particularly his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador to the United States––came to light.