After Sessions, whither the Russia hoax witch hunt?

I had barely finished digesting the Midterm election news yesterday morning and begun wondering how the new lay of the land might affect the Russia Hoax when events began unfolding. President Trump has never been mistaken for someone who dithers when action is called for. He quickly requested and received the resignation of AG Jeff Sessions, then inserted Sessions's Chief of Staff, Matthew G. Whitaker, as Acting AG, pending the naming of a permanent replacement (rumors are already circulating that Janice Rogers Brown is under consideration).

The move had been anticipated since at least August, when key GOP senators gave Trump public backing for the change: Key Republicans Give Trump a Path to Fire Sessions After the Election. As Bloomberg reported, both Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley, both of whom had previously opposed firing Sessions, publicly approved removing Sessions and even provided a time frame for action:

The pivotal message on Thursday came from Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who oscillates between criticizing many of the president’s policies and defending a president who sometimes invites him to go golfing at a Trump-branded resort.

“The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice,” Graham told reporters.

But he added that forcing out Sessions before November “would create havoc” with efforts to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, as well as with the midterm elections on Nov. 6 that will determine whether Republicans keep control of Congress. 

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, also changed his position on Thursday, saying in an interview that he’d be able to make time for hearings for a new attorney general after saying in the past that the panel was too busy to tackle that explosive possibility.

Even at this stage, with an Acting AG, the legal landscape appears to have changed drastically. What's more, this drastic change takes effect immediately -- while the Republicans still control the House.

Whitaker is considered (by the NYT) to be "Trump Loyalist," and in fact in August, 2017, authored an article that was sharply critical of Mueller: Mueller's investigation of Trump is going too far. It's a given that Whitaker won't be recusing himself, and that means that he'll replace DAG Rod Rosenstein as the official who will oversee Special Counsel Mueller's investigation. Rosenstein, at least as long as he remains Deputy AG, will continue to supervise FBI Director Christopher Wray, but Whitaker will be able to override any and every decision that Rosenstein or anyone else makes -- including Mueller. Production of documents to House committees, declassification of documents, expedited redactions, prosecutorial decisions, conflict of interest and other ethical issues, coordination with OIG -- pretty much everything will be within his purview and, given the several months long lead time that he's had, Whitaker should have an action plan ready.

Naturally, the usual suspects, Chuck Schumer and Jerrold Nadler, have already called for Whitaker to recuse himself from the Russia Hoax investigation because Whitaker previously suggested the possibility of restricting Mueller's funding if Mueller attempted to extend his investigations beyond the limits imposed by the Special Counsel law. The notion that an attorney should recuse himself from overseeing a case simply because he has views on the merits of the case or, especially, because he wants to ensure that that case is conducted within statutorily prescribed limits, is a pretty obvious bad faith proposition and a non-starter. An attorney, including the Attorney General, is not a judge. He is bound by canons of ethics, but he is not bound to have no opinion on any given matter that he may be called upon to supervise, so long as he has no conflict of interest. Schumer and Nadler didn't even attempt to demonstrate any conflict so I think we can rest assured that there is none.

Does Trump have anything to fear from the new Democrat House, come January, which will presumably be under the Speakership of Nancy Pelosi? While the House can certainly harass Trump and even make matters uncomfortable for him, it's open to doubt just how far they may wish to take that. Pelosi herself was quick to tweet yesterday evening, even before the polls had closed:

"For those who want impeachment, that's not what our caucus is about."

And Trump was almost equally quick to make his view abundantly clear on Twitter:

If the Democrats think they are going to waste Taxpayer Money investigating us at the House level, then we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified Information, and much else, at the Senate level. Two can play that game!

That was not, I believe, an empty threat. Not only is there ample investigative material to work with, but Trump will have a strengthened GOP majority in the Senate backing him -- a majority that may prove eager to exact a pound or more of flesh from the Schumer Democrats who played fast and loose in their attacks on an honorable man, Brett Kavanaugh. Further, Trump himself may be eager to begin the runup to 2020 pretty much right away -- beginning with implementation of his declassification order. Trump has declared that he favors transparency sooner rather than later, and if there's one thing we've all learned it's that he tends to keep his word.

And then there's this: Exit Poll: Majority Sours on Robert Mueller's Russia Investigation.

A CNN exit poll shows that a clear majority of 54 percent of Americans see the Russian investigation as politically motivated, while only 41 percent disagree.

If the Democrats really want to spend the next two years chasing down that rabbit hole, instead of preparing a platform that might convince voters that they have something constructive to offer the country, Trump will probably want to encourage them.

Image credit: NBC screen grab via YouTube

Mark Wauck is a retired FBI Agent who blogs on religion, philosophy, and FISA at meaning in history.

I had barely finished digesting the Midterm election news yesterday morning and begun wondering how the new lay of the land might affect the Russia Hoax when events began unfolding. President Trump has never been mistaken for someone who dithers when action is called for. He quickly requested and received the resignation of AG Jeff Sessions, then inserted Sessions's Chief of Staff, Matthew G. Whitaker, as Acting AG, pending the naming of a permanent replacement (rumors are already circulating that Janice Rogers Brown is under consideration).

The move had been anticipated since at least August, when key GOP senators gave Trump public backing for the change: Key Republicans Give Trump a Path to Fire Sessions After the Election. As Bloomberg reported, both Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley, both of whom had previously opposed firing Sessions, publicly approved removing Sessions and even provided a time frame for action:

The pivotal message on Thursday came from Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who oscillates between criticizing many of the president’s policies and defending a president who sometimes invites him to go golfing at a Trump-branded resort.

“The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice,” Graham told reporters.

But he added that forcing out Sessions before November “would create havoc” with efforts to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, as well as with the midterm elections on Nov. 6 that will determine whether Republicans keep control of Congress. 

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, also changed his position on Thursday, saying in an interview that he’d be able to make time for hearings for a new attorney general after saying in the past that the panel was too busy to tackle that explosive possibility.

Even at this stage, with an Acting AG, the legal landscape appears to have changed drastically. What's more, this drastic change takes effect immediately -- while the Republicans still control the House.

Whitaker is considered (by the NYT) to be "Trump Loyalist," and in fact in August, 2017, authored an article that was sharply critical of Mueller: Mueller's investigation of Trump is going too far. It's a given that Whitaker won't be recusing himself, and that means that he'll replace DAG Rod Rosenstein as the official who will oversee Special Counsel Mueller's investigation. Rosenstein, at least as long as he remains Deputy AG, will continue to supervise FBI Director Christopher Wray, but Whitaker will be able to override any and every decision that Rosenstein or anyone else makes -- including Mueller. Production of documents to House committees, declassification of documents, expedited redactions, prosecutorial decisions, conflict of interest and other ethical issues, coordination with OIG -- pretty much everything will be within his purview and, given the several months long lead time that he's had, Whitaker should have an action plan ready.

Naturally, the usual suspects, Chuck Schumer and Jerrold Nadler, have already called for Whitaker to recuse himself from the Russia Hoax investigation because Whitaker previously suggested the possibility of restricting Mueller's funding if Mueller attempted to extend his investigations beyond the limits imposed by the Special Counsel law. The notion that an attorney should recuse himself from overseeing a case simply because he has views on the merits of the case or, especially, because he wants to ensure that that case is conducted within statutorily prescribed limits, is a pretty obvious bad faith proposition and a non-starter. An attorney, including the Attorney General, is not a judge. He is bound by canons of ethics, but he is not bound to have no opinion on any given matter that he may be called upon to supervise, so long as he has no conflict of interest. Schumer and Nadler didn't even attempt to demonstrate any conflict so I think we can rest assured that there is none.

Does Trump have anything to fear from the new Democrat House, come January, which will presumably be under the Speakership of Nancy Pelosi? While the House can certainly harass Trump and even make matters uncomfortable for him, it's open to doubt just how far they may wish to take that. Pelosi herself was quick to tweet yesterday evening, even before the polls had closed:

"For those who want impeachment, that's not what our caucus is about."

And Trump was almost equally quick to make his view abundantly clear on Twitter:

If the Democrats think they are going to waste Taxpayer Money investigating us at the House level, then we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified Information, and much else, at the Senate level. Two can play that game!

That was not, I believe, an empty threat. Not only is there ample investigative material to work with, but Trump will have a strengthened GOP majority in the Senate backing him -- a majority that may prove eager to exact a pound or more of flesh from the Schumer Democrats who played fast and loose in their attacks on an honorable man, Brett Kavanaugh. Further, Trump himself may be eager to begin the runup to 2020 pretty much right away -- beginning with implementation of his declassification order. Trump has declared that he favors transparency sooner rather than later, and if there's one thing we've all learned it's that he tends to keep his word.

And then there's this: Exit Poll: Majority Sours on Robert Mueller's Russia Investigation.

A CNN exit poll shows that a clear majority of 54 percent of Americans see the Russian investigation as politically motivated, while only 41 percent disagree.

If the Democrats really want to spend the next two years chasing down that rabbit hole, instead of preparing a platform that might convince voters that they have something constructive to offer the country, Trump will probably want to encourage them.

Image credit: NBC screen grab via YouTube

Mark Wauck is a retired FBI Agent who blogs on religion, philosophy, and FISA at meaning in history.