President Donald Trump’s pick for acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, was endorsed Wednesday by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel despite fierce criticisms.
The action means Whitaker will not need Senate confirmation to hold the position.
The position opened up, of course, when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pushed to resign as head of the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The news about Sessions came just a day after the results of a fierce midterm election split congressional control across the two parties.
President Donald Trump then picked Whitaker (shown above right), Sessions’ chief of staff, to fill the role as acting attorney general.
“This Office previously had advised that the President could designate a senior Department of Justice Official, such as Mr. Whitaker as Acting Attorney General,” the legal counsel office said in a statement to Fox News, adding — “at a sufficiently senior pay level for over a year.”
Sessions and the president have maintained a friendly public persona, but reports and rumors indicated some tension between the two.
Sessions’ departure wasn’t unexpected, and the administration had stated there would be staffing changes. Sessions had had a tough relationship with the president ever since he recused himself of all matters related to the Russian election interference allegations.
Whitaker’s selection for the role of acting attorney general raised a red flag among critics because of his past comments related to the investigation.
Justice Department says Matthew Whitaker can legally serve as acting attorney general without Senate confirmation https://t.co/QamONUeVCJ
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) November 14, 2018
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and others have called for Whitaker to recuse himself from handling the Mueller investigation based on the public comments he’d made.
Sessions decided to recuse himself because of conversations he’d had with high-profile Russian officials around the campaign. But the decision earned continuous scorn from the president, who continues to face a federal investigation into whether or not he or his associates colluded with Russian interests during the campaign.
Trump had made clear his disapproval of his former attorney general in interviews and on social media.
“I don’t have an attorney general. It’s very sad,” Trump told a small crowd of reporters last month, according to USA Today.
“I’m not happy at the border, I’m not happy with numerous things, not just this,” said Trump.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has been leading the investigation in what has seemed an endless dark cloud through much of the current presidency.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed him to lead the special counsel investigation last year after Sessions recused himself.
Among Whitaker’s past comments on the investigation was his argument that there is no criminal obstruction of justice charge to be had against the president.
He also referred to the special counsel investigation as a lynch mob.