On Wednesday, Donald Trump did a dance in front of the press while behind the scenes the chairs were being shuffled at the Department of Justice. Matthew Whitaker—who was appointed to the DOJ a year ago entirely based on an editorial he wrote suggesting ways that a new attorney general might end Robert Mueller’s investigation—is now in charge of that investigation. Whitaker has moved from being a failed candidate for a local judge to attorney general of the United States in less than two years on the basis of simply telling Donald Trump what he wants to hear.
While Rod Rosenstein hasn’t been fired, he doesn’t need to be. Robert Mueller now reports to Whitaker; the guy who proposed firing him, limiting the scope of his investigation, or cutting his budget to the point where the investigation was “effectively dead.”
Whitaker may have already instituted changes in the Mueller investigation. Significant changes in staffing might be visible. Might. But some of the changes that Whitaker proposed, like severely limiting Mueller’s budget or setting the scope of the investigation so that everything other than a handful of actions were off limits, would not. It’s not as if Mueller is going to put out a press release, and Whitaker knows that. One sign of Whitaker’s effect on the investigation could be—no sign at all. In issuing new indictments, Mueller would likely have to go to Whitaker for approval. It’s unclear how this might affect existing indictments already under seal, but if there is a continued ringing silence from the Russia investigation, it could well be because pending actions are going from Whitaker’s inbox straight to the circular file.
But it’s not as if writing anti-Muller editorials, or appearing on TV as an anti-Mueller commentator has been Whitaker’s only job over the last few years. As the Daily Beast reports, Whitaker was behind a secretive group that stepped in to protect members of the Trump campaign from allegations of meetings with Russian officials. That included trying to distract from the fact that Jeff Sessions lied about his meetings with the Russian ambassador in Senate testimony, by challenging Democratic senators to list all of their meetings. The organization was also connected to spreading rumors that Christine Blasey Ford mistook Brett Kavanaugh for another high school classmate.
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