Leading news stories on Cable TV today focused on Robert Mueller releasing documents revealing former security adviser Michael Flynn’s cooperation in the Russia investigation. The documents were heavily redacted (blacked out), but they did note Flynn’s “substantial help” in several parts of the continuing investigation. Prosecutors on Mueller’s team cited Flynn’s assistance as a basis for leniency when he is sentenced by a judge on December 18.
Prologue: The FBI original Trump-Russia investigation began in summer 2016 during the presidential campaign with very little reporting to the public. In May 2017, President Trump fired Director James Comey and said a day later that the Russia investigation was on his mind. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was in charge of the investigation because Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions had recused himself when it became known that he had met with the Russian ambassador during the Trump campaign.
Rod Rosenstein then named Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel on May 17, 2017. That day, Mueller issued the only public statement he’s issued since he took the position. “I accept the responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability.” Rosenstein said at the time, “The public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree independence from the normal chain of command.”
Results of the Investigation to date: Mueller enlisted a team of sixteen: FBI agents, former prosecutors and other lawyers to investigate Russia’s 2016 election interference and whether any Trump associates conspired. Each of the prosecutors has a specialty, like political corruption, hacking or money laundering. The team has secured indictments against 32 people and three Russian companies with interfering in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Donald J. Trump. This includes four Trump campaign officials: Paul Manafort, Richard Gates, George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn. All have reached plea deals. Manafort was the campaign chair at one time while Flynn had been a key participant during the entire campaign, sparking the “Lock her Up” chant at rallies. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his talks with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak during the transition.
President Trump has labeled the Mueller Investigation from the beginning as a “witch hunt” with no validity. He has insisted in tweets, interviews on cable TV and at midterm rallies , “I have had nothing to do with Russia!” “ No business deals in Russia.” “No interests or connections of any kind in Russia!” For some months he refrained from attacking Robert Mueller, a Republican, personally. More recently, his attacks include Mueller by name for conducting the “witch hunt.” Trump has always attacked the media as “the enemy of the people” who write and broadcast “fake news”.
Department of Justice change at the White House: Donald Trump also continued to denigrate Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. He had been head of the D.O.J. Department of Justice. Trump said many times he never would have appointed him if he had known he would recuse himself. On November 7, 2018 , Jeffrey Sessions submitted his resignation to the president. Then, Trump announced the same day that he was appointing Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States. Whitaker had been Sessions’ chief of staff since September and practically unknown in Washington. He was a Republican who had said that the Mueller Investigation was a “witch hunt” . Trump bypassed Rod Rosenstein the deputy attorney general with the appointment. Matt Whitaker would now be responsible for the Mueller Investigation and the entire Department of Justice.
Reactions to Matt Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general:
On November 8, The New York Times printed an Op Ed by Neil Katyal former U.S. Solicitor General and George T. Conway III , lawyer and husband of Kellyanne Conway, White House adviser. Headline: “Trump’s Appointment of the Acting Attorney General Is Unconstitutional “ “ The president is evading his responsibility to seek the Senate’s advice and consent for the nation’s chief law enforcement officer and the person who will oversee the Mueller Investigation.”
Their central argument was that a principal office such as acting attorney general must be confirmed by the Senate. “Evading such a procedure defies one of the explicit checks and balances set out in the Constitution, a provision designed to protect us against the centralization of government power.”
On November 9, The New York Times printed a second Op Ed by Neil Katyal and George T. Conway III. “Whitaker’s Appointment Is Illegal” From the text: “Mr. Whitaker … has now been vested with the law enforcement authority of the entire United States government, including the power to supervise senate confirmed officials like the deputy attorney general, the solicitor general and all United States attorneys.” They concluded their piece , “Constitutionally Mathew Whitaker is a nobody. For the president to install Mr. Whitaker as our chief law enforcement officer is to betray the entire structure of our charter document.”
On November 19, three Democratic Senators went before a federal judge to issue an injunction barring Mathew Whitaker from exercising the powers of the Justice Department. They argued that his installation violated The Constitution. Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island sit on the Judiciary Committee.
One week after Trump appointed Whitaker as Acting Attorney General, four hundred and three members of the Department of Justice from across the United States signed a letter strongly opposed to his appointment. They had learned as any interested reader of The New York Times that “Mr. Whitaker is an avowed antagonist of Robert Mueller and has called the investigation “a witch hunt”. He has said, “Mr. Mueller’s team should not investigate Trump’s finances and has suggested an attorney general could slash the special counsel’s budget.”
It became even clearer to millions of citizens who follow the political news that Whitaker was unfit for the position. It was revealed on cable news that “ Whitaker is skeptical about Marbury v. Madison, the landmark case by the first Chief justice of the United States that established judicial review by the Supreme Court of the Executive and Legislative branches of government. Whitaker would also support confirmation of federal judges who hold a “biblical view of justice” and he may have prosecuted a political opponent for improper reasons when he was a federal prosecutor.” Finally, Whitaker’s business involvement with a company accused of scamming customers is being investigated at this time.
Latest political news: December 7: Robert Mueller will release documents concerning Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen related to their cooperation with the Russia Investigation. Donald Trump will be riveted to every word to see if he or family members may be closer to becoming targets of the overall investigation.
At the same time, there is a bill in the Senate to stop Trump from firing Robert Mueller. Majority leader, Mitch McConnell is holding up the bill. But Jeff Flake, Republican, who is retiring in January is threatening to stop sixteen appellate judges from being confirmed by the Senate. Flake is the key swing vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee. If he votes No on the judges, they will not move to the full Senate.
We all watch as another scene unfolds in this chaotic Donald Trump White House.
Joyce S. Anderson