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Trump's relationship with Whitaker imperils the rule of law

For those of us who viewed President Trump's decision to appoint Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general...

Posted: Dec 24, 2018 8:49 AM
Updated: Dec 24, 2018 8:49 AM

For those of us who viewed President Trump's decision to appoint Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general with great skepticism, our greatest fears are now manifest.

When Whitaker was originally announced for the position in November, many were disturbed by Trump's decision to select a chief law enforcement officer who had spoken out so strongly against special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign. They feared -- as do I -- that a President who does not respect the independence of the Justice Department was attempting to install an acolyte who would either seek to limit the Russia probe or disband it altogether and possibly interfere with other investigations into Trump World.

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The entire affair smacked of malfeasance. As it turns out, our concerns were well founded.

Friday, CNN reported a bombshell story about at least two incidents in which President Trump lashed out at Whitaker, according to multiple sources. Trump was apparently upset about Michael Cohen, who was sentenced December 12 to three years in prison after pleading guilty to financial crimes and lying to Congress. Trump's former lawyer and fixer opted to cooperate with the government and implicated the President in federal campaign finance violations while revealing more about Trump's foreign business entanglements.

According to the CNN reporting, Trump fumed that Whitaker wasn't doing more to control federal prosecutors.

The President's blatant disregard for institutional norms cannot be overstated. The Justice Department and FBI have long enjoyed unique independence from the White House, compared to other government agencies. This degree of autonomy is what sets America apart from dictatorships and banana republics around the world, where heads of state freely use law enforcement to insulate themselves and target political opponents.

Indeed, when I served in a senior position at the FBI, my colleagues and I knew that continual communication with the White House was essential to the President's ability to exercise his duties -- but discussing the specifics of ongoing criminal investigations was off-limits, absent extraordinary circumstances. The Justice Department's own policy strictly regulates which topics can be discussed with an administration.

Talking to Trump about an investigation involving him would be unthinkable. That he felt so free to vent his frustration to the nation's chief law enforcement officer speaks volumes about how closely he views that relationship.

Unfortunately, the alarming report appears to be just another example of an ongoing pattern with this President. In June 2017, my former boss, FBI Director James Comey, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about a one-on-one meeting with Trump, during which the President expressed his hope that the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn could be dropped. Trump has denied that he asked Comey to shut down the investigation.

It was also reported that Trump previously pressed Whitaker, who was serving as chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the time, for details about investigations involving his former presidential campaign rival, Hillary Clinton. The President reportedly told his White House lawyer that he wanted to use the Justice Department to prosecute both Comey and Clinton, The New York Times reported, citing two sources familiar with the conversation.

Interestingly, the President allegedly conducted inappropriate discussions with Whitaker after he accused Democratic officials of doing the same in 2016. When former President Bill Clinton -- the spouse of a subject under FBI investigation at the time -- met on an airport tarmac with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Trump erupted, claiming something sinister was afoot when he wrote, "The system is totally rigged and corrupt!" Lynch, who described the meeting as "primarily social," said no ongoing case was brought up during their conversation.

I remain highly critical of that meeting -- in my view, it was a mistake for the attorney general to create so much as the appearance of impropriety by meeting privately with Clinton -- but President Trump's hypocrisy is stunning.

Although there is no indication that the President ordered Whitaker to take any specific actions, or that the acting attorney general bowed to any pressure, there remains great cause for alarm. Whitaker disregarded the advice of a DOJ ethics official, who suggested he step aside from overseeing the ongoing Mueller investigation. He remains in a very powerful position and has the ability to shut down the special counsel's investigation.

To make matters worse, we also know that William Barr, Trump's official nominee for attorney general, sent an unsolicited memo to DOJ officials in June, criticizing Mueller's investigation. He also wrote, "Mueller should not be permitted to demand that the President submit to interrogation about alleged obstruction."

This is a dangerous time for America as the President continues to chip away at institutional norms for the sole purpose of protecting himself from legal and political jeopardy. He has sought to surround himself with those critical of the special counsel's ability to seek answers and protect US national security from foreign and domestic threats. Trump's view of our system of justice should alarm every American who cares about the rule of law.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 658043

Reported Deaths: 12467
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion902221628
Lake48163871
Allen35614632
Hamilton31884394
St. Joseph29615510
Elkhart25291412
Vanderburgh21148377
Tippecanoe19815197
Johnson16262353
Porter15867268
Hendricks15744297
Clark11860179
Madison11688315
Vigo11520228
Monroe10267158
Delaware9800178
LaPorte9725194
Howard9024194
Kosciusko8519107
Bartholomew7394147
Warrick7380147
Hancock7379128
Floyd7149165
Wayne6597189
Grant6406157
Morgan6044124
Boone604188
Dubois5876111
Dearborn541266
Henry539892
Marshall5397104
Cass538999
Noble507575
Jackson462663
Shelby458890
Lawrence4161111
Gibson400581
Harrison395960
Clinton393353
DeKalb382878
Montgomery382883
Miami355163
Knox354484
Whitley347235
Huntington339276
Steuben336355
Wabash329575
Putnam326559
Ripley325261
Adams320749
Jasper313643
White295651
Jefferson293270
Daviess284496
Fayette270555
Decatur269688
Greene260278
Posey260031
Wells256074
Scott248947
LaGrange240270
Clay239444
Randolph225076
Spencer216130
Jennings214044
Washington208727
Sullivan202239
Fountain200641
Starke186450
Owen181652
Fulton177437
Jay177328
Carroll175718
Perry172635
Orange170450
Rush164222
Vermillion159040
Franklin158435
Tipton145641
Parke138415
Pike127232
Blackford120327
Pulaski106243
Newton96431
Brown94839
Benton91213
Crawford90113
Martin80014
Switzerland7527
Warren74712
Union66810
Ohio52811
Unassigned0428

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 959995

Reported Deaths: 17045
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1111071193
Cuyahoga945941709
Hamilton72643947
Montgomery46983875
Summit39720942
Butler35094460
Lucas34829757
Stark29061835
Warren22166270
Lorain21781386
Mahoning19282537
Lake18210300
Clermont18200206
Delaware16289129
Licking14832197
Fairfield14401156
Trumbull14171455
Greene13481211
Medina13220219
Clark12139333
Wood11411193
Portage10870153
Allen10715232
Richland10184205
Miami9954179
Columbiana8052179
Muskingum8046123
Tuscarawas7984235
Pickaway796798
Marion7944135
Wayne7799217
Erie6803183
Ross6083136
Geauga5996129
Hancock5945110
Scioto5886105
Ashtabula5884143
Lawrence520373
Union506552
Darke5013122
Belmont483987
Sandusky473393
Jefferson4726107
Huron4722117
Seneca4624103
Athens457331
Mercer4570101
Auglaize454498
Washington452186
Shelby439167
Knox398584
Putnam3967101
Madison389147
Ashland375495
Fulton375364
Defiance3682102
Brown367842
Crawford355396
Preble351070
Logan350158
Clinton336862
Highland324455
Ottawa319667
Williams299777
Jackson287756
Guernsey284034
Champaign283145
Fayette266343
Perry265943
Morrow257224
Henry243665
Holmes2420104
Hardin241957
Coshocton230847
Van Wert227849
Gallia219846
Adams213732
Pike212825
Wyandot207952
Hocking192248
Carroll178928
Paulding158023
Meigs133836
Noble128142
Monroe115336
Morgan99734
Harrison99632
Vinton76515
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