“The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess,” tweeted President Trump this morning. But why would the president have access to the inner workings of the Mueller investigation, which is supposed to be firewalled away from his influence?
There’s a strong chance Trump is just making this up, of course. On the other hand, over the last week, the Mueller investigation has been supervised by acting attorney general Matt Whitaker, who would have access to the investigation’s inner workings. It might be the case that Trump actually has access to the inner workings of the Mueller investigation because he finally has somebody running the Justice Department who is pliant and unethical enough to give it to him.
There has been a persistent disbelief among many observers throughout the Trump presidency that the underlying reality is as bad as it appears on the surface. But the scumminess of the arrangement is increasingly naked. Here, lying about in plain sight, is Trump’s response yesterday to a question from the conservative Daily Caller, which asked, “Could you tell us where your thinking is currently on the attorney general position? I know you’re happy with Matthew Whitaker, do you have any names? Chris Christie?”
In response Trump embarked on a rant about the Mueller investigation:
I knew [Whitaker] only as he pertained, you know, as he was with Jeff Sessions. And, um, you know, look, as far as I’m concerned this is an investigation that should have never been brought. It should have never been had.
It’s something that should have never been brought. It’s an illegal investigation. And you know, it’s very interesting because when you talk about not Senate confirmed, well, Mueller’s not Senate confirmed.
Trump is all but confessing that he hired Whitaker to stop the “illegal” Mueller probe.
Whitaker may not have the opportunity to squelch the Mueller probe. He has to clear two legal hurdles: First, the constitutionality of his appointment is being challenged — it is not clear whether a president has the authority to install an acting attorney general without Senate confirmation. Second, Whitaker might be required to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, since he knew and worked closely with Sam Clovis, a member of the campaign and a subject the of the investigation.
But what is almost certainly not going to stop Whitaker is any inherent sense of professional ethics. Whitaker’s history includes a stint with World Patent Marketing, a scam firm that was shut down by the Federal Trade Commission, and is currently under FBI investigation. Its basic business model appears to have consisted of finding people with ideas for inventions, persuading them that World Patent Marketing could turn the idea into a commercial success, and bilking them for large payments, in return for which they would get nothing. Whitaker’s role at the firm involved using his legal and political connections to threaten the defrauded customers.
The Washington Post goes deeper into the scam. The story confirms that, despite the Department’s official claim that “acting attorney general Matt Whitaker has said he was not aware of any fraudulent activity,” he was made aware of complaints of fraud at the time. “FTC investigators found that Whitaker received complaints about the company in his role as an advisory board member,” reports the Post.
If your assumption that somehow this will work out rests on the belief that Whitaker will conform to the ethical norms of the legal profession, you need to think about the people he has worked with in the past. You also need to consider what his future might bring. Matthew Whitaker is nobody’s idea of a bright young legal mind. He might make a nice living hosting a show on Fox News about the the Democrats who should be locked up and the Republicans who are being unfairly investigated. His career incentive is to do Trump’s bidding.