This post was last updated on November 28th, 2018 at 12:38 pm
The alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 elections of the Unites States is still hanging, while the Robert Mueller investigation — on the alleged collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian officials in May 2017 — is proceeding at its own pace. While the questions on the matter still remain, the US President is apparently playing his cards quite well.
Taking a smart move on the very next day of the elections 2018, Trump ousted former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to temporarily replace him with Matthew Whitaker, who has got access to a number of powers than are beyond turning out in favor of the president.
Whitaker’s appointment by Trump has been alleged to be on the prospect to fire Mueller, which will likely set off public outrage and prompt full-scale probes by the Democrats, who are seize control of the House in January. However, Trump has taken a smart move, for a change.
The present acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker has received a broad authority from federal regulations with respect to the special counsel, which extends beyond the faculty to remove Mueller. He has the ability to curtail the investigation in ways that might not necessarily become public knowledge, until after the Russian probe is over.
Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor, said, “He has a lot of authority, starting with his authority to remove Mueller if he finds he has good cause for doing so under the relevant regulation. There are both hard and soft powers that the relevant regulation gives to the acting attorney general.”
As an acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker could weigh in on any key steps in the special counsel’s investigation— including the issuance of new subpoenas and indictments.
Matthew Whitaker ought to remain in charge of the Justice Department until the conclusion of the Russian probe. Besides, it will be up to him to decide which segments (if any) of the final report from Mueller’s investigation are submitted to Congress or released to the public.
Prior to joining the Justice Department, Whitaker has publicly condemned the probe on several occasions. In an August 2017 CNN op-ed, he had also argued that the investigation into Trump was going “too far” and should be limited.
Besides, Trump has also increasingly expressed scorn for the investigation. In August, he had publicly called on Sessions to “stop” the investigation “right now.”
Considering Whittaker’s appointment, the Democrats and the Trump critics have warned that the president could be devising the groundwork to thwart the probe. Last week, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) had also tried to force a vote on legislation for protecting Mueller from being fired, but the efforts were unsuccessful.
On the other hand, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stated that such a measure is not required as he believes that Mueller is in no danger of being ousted.
In a recent interview with Fox News Sunday, Trump defended his appointment of acting attorney general, saying that he was unfamiliar with Whitaker’s previous views on the Mueller probe. Besides, he also suggested that he would not interfere if Whitaker took action to pump the brakes on the investigation.
“It’s going to be up to him. I think he’s very well aware politically.” Trump said. “There was no collusion whatsoever, and the whole thing is a scam.”
However, no matter what Trump says, the attorney general has received various authorities over Mueller’s investigations. The special counsel is required to notify the acting attorney general regarding any “significant events” in the investigation — from plans to pursue charges or subpoena witnesses to testify.
Matthew Whitaker also has control over the special counsel’s budget and staff. In an interview with CNN in 2017, he envisioned a situation in which a replacement for Sessions could reduce Mueller’s budget “so low that his investigations grind to almost a halt.”
So far, it is uncertain when Mueller will up his investigation. However, it is being speculated that the probe in likely in the late fact-finding stages. Besides, Mueller is required to submit a final confidential report to the attorney general.
It is being cited that any action by Matthew Whitaker to limit the probe will met with intense political blowback. The House Democrats could possibly set hearings to investigate allegations of interference. Besides, they could hold funding bills hostage to force actions with respect to the Russia probe.
A legal expert, Steven Cash said that even if the Trump administration were to end the Russian probe prematurely or fire Robert Mueller, it would not erase the work already done by the special counsel.
“It’s really hard to put that toothpaste back in the tube,” Cash said.
At this point, Donald Trump’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker seems to be a well-planned and a well-thought move. His actions are a clear indication that he is afraid of the investigations.
This week, Trump’s team also cancelled a planned meeting with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team; after they saw the list of questions the president would be asked. The White House lawyers convinced the president to steer clear of a direct meeting, as they believe he might put himself in legal jeopardy by lying to investigators.
The US President has been running away from Mueller’s investigation since they have started. Why is he trying to avoid the Russian probe? Is Donald Trump afraid that the investigations will bring in the facts that he has been trying to suppress? Was there collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russian officials in the 2016 midterms for real?
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