Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker once argued that an American president had such broad executive power that they could order any federal investigation be stopped without obstructing justice.
In a 2017 interview on “The David Webb Show,” first reported by Mother Jones, Whitaker argued that, amid reports Trump had asked former FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, there was no case for obstruction of justice regardless of President Donald Trump’s motives because the president is entitled to make such calls with his inherent authority.
The interview came shortly after Comey was fired by Trump and while Whitaker, then the head of a conservative nonprofit group, was a regular commentator on right-leaning media.
“There is no case for obstruction of justice because the president has all the power of the executive and delegates that to people like the FBI director and the attorney general,” Whitaker argued. “The president could, and has in our nation’s history, said stop investigating this person or please investigate this other person.”
He continued: “This hyperventilation of what we see here is not sustainable based on these facts.”
Whitaker has already come under fire for deeply critical views of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe that he’d made in the past. In an interview with CNN in 2017, he argued that the inquiry could be kneecapped if the attorney general “just reduces his budget so low that the investigation grinds almost to a halt.” In a separate editorial for CNN, he wrote that Mueller’s team had already gone too close to a red-line during the scope of the probe.
“It is time for Rosenstein, who is the acting attorney general for the purposes of this investigation, to order Mueller to limit the scope of his investigation to the four corners of the order appointing him special counsel.” Whitaker wrote. “If he doesn’t, then Mueller’s investigation will eventually start to look like a political fishing expedition.”
Some prominent legal scholars have already lambasted the choice of Whitaker, including George Conway, the husband of White House adviser Kellyanne Conway. In an op-ed for The New York Times on Thursday, George Conway argued that the appointment was unconstitutional and accused the president of seeking to evade requirements that an attorney general be confirmed by the Senate.
“It’s illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid,” Conway wrote with former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal K. Katyal.
Whitaker is legally allowed to serve as acting attorney general for no more than 210 days under the Vacancies Reform Act but could be in the post longer while another individual’s nomination is pending, according to the Times.