President Trump ignited a firestorm of controversy last week when he took the unusual step of appointing Matthew Whitaker acting attorney general without confirmation by the Senate.
Whitaker had been a vocal critic of the Russia investigation, calling Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to appoint Mueller “ridiculous” and “a little fishy.”
But just weeks before Mueller was appointed special counsel by Rosenstein in May 2017, Whitaker seemed fine with Rosenstein and his performance, according to a letter he signed at the time. Whitaker was one of 127 former U.S. attorneys who signed a letter dated March 6, 2017, to the Senate Judiciary Committee exalting Rosenstein’s “unassailable integrity, careful legal thinking, and prudent judgement.”
“These are qualities Mr. Rosenstein possesses in abundance,” the letter goes on to say. The committee was preparing to vote on Rosenstein's nomination at the time.
In one passage that now smacks of particular irony, the letter praises Rosenstein’s “integrity and independence” in “investigating White House officials.”
Whitaker had been Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff, a position outranked by Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. Unlike Whitaker as chief of staff, Rosenstein required Senate approval to his current position. Trump’s appointment of Whitaker as acting attorney general has been challenged for running afoul of the Constitution’s Appointments Clause, which requires that “principal officers” appointed by the president must be confirmed by the Senate.
On Tuesday, the State of Maryland filed papers asking a federal judge to declare Rosenstein, not Whitaker, as the acting attorney general, arguing that Whitaker’s appointment is unlawful. The filing called Whitaker “an unqualified and unconfirmed partisan.”
TYT previously reported on Whitaker’s intensely partisan background, and that the Justice Department has refused to release documents which could shed additional light on his partisanship.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said, "It is troubling, to say the least, that the president is attempting to fill a 'vacancy' he created himself with a 'temporary' appointment that might last for many months or years, especially when, as there, the temporary appointee has not been confirmed by the Senate,".
Whitaker’s appointment was the first time since 1868 — when a succession law was passed for the Justice Department — that someone who was appointed acting attorney general had not already been serving in a position confirmed by the Senate.
The letter Whitaker signed attesting to Rosenstein’s qualifications closes by offering “unqualified and enthusiastic support for Rod Rosenstein’s nomination as Deputy Attorney General.”
The full letter appears below as it was published by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Ken Klippenstein is a senior investigative reporter for TYT. He can be reached on Twitter @kenklippenstein or via email: [email protected].
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