A Heavy Dose of Ranting: Is the US judicial branch compromised?

Shortly after the midterm elections, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was fired by President Trump [1]. It’s likely that Trump held off on the firing until after the elections because he knew the optics would be bad. He essentially fired Sessions in order to appoint someone else to control the Mueller investigation, since Sessions had recused himself from that role. Moreover, Trump had increasingly complained about Sessions’ loyalty towards his position rather than the GOP or the Presidency [2]. The reality is that a few GOP officials had been indicted for insider trading and a variety of campaign violations, which Sessions dutifully pursued. Trump was unsatisfied because the bad optics could jeopardize the elections. Unsurprisingly, the President could care less about the GOP adhering to the law. Personally, I doubt Trump cares about the GOP political party whatsoever; this comes down to two factors: the Russia investigation and support of Trump’s policies. Democrats gaining control is going to translate to Trump actually being held accountable and he won’t be able to pass any of his policies. Moreover, the GOP are willing to blindly support seemingly any Trump policy.

After the “forced resignation”, Trump then went ahead an installed Matthew Whitaker into the acting Attorney General role (Sessions’ Chief of Staff). It’s been debated if this new appointment was even legal. Constitutional scholars have argued that Whitaker had never been confirmed by the Senate to operate in any type of role [3]. Keep in mind that there are plenty of US attorneys that have been confirmed by the senate; therefore, Trump simply could’ve picked any of these options.

Previously, in what now appears to be a moment of true irony, Trump had tried to argue that Mueller, the lawyer leading the Russia investigation, was illegally appointed because he was a “principal officer”. A principal officer is an individual that reports only to the President and therefore needed to be approved by the Senate [3]. However, Mueller reports to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, therefore he doesn’t require any special approval. It’s for this exact reason that Whitaker, who reports directly to Trump, SHOULD require approval. Trump literally used this argument against Mueller, but is now ignoring it in the appointment of Whitaker.

The Trump Justice Department is using a variety of technicalities to suggest that Whitaker’s appointment is completely acceptable. For one, Whitaker’s appointment is technically temporary (i.e. 210 days are potentially allowed) due to the provisions of The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 [4]. The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, which allows for temporary appointments, was initially created to handle situations where an individual had resigned or died, rather than fired [5]. In Session’s “resignation letter”, he indicated that Trump had “requested he resign” which sounds far more like a firing, as opposed to actually quitting from a position [6]. Ultimately, there are a variety of legal opinions on this and it doesn’t appear this will be resolved anytime soon [7]. Currently, three Democrat senators have filed a lawsuit in regards to Whitaker’s appointment [8]. Time will tell how that plays out.

So why would Trump chose Whitaker, given the ensuing controversy? He did have a number of senate-approved attorneys to choose from, after all. Well, Whitaker previously declared that the Mueller investigation is going too far in its investigation of Trump [9]. Moreover, it appears that Whitaker has a bit of an unscrupulous past. Whitaker had been appointed to the leader of a “charity”, in which he was the only employee and received $1.2 MILLION dollars in salary [10]. I highly suggest reading the referenced Washington Post report on this because there are numerous details about this “charity” that suggests oodles of wrong-doing. Generally speaking, charities are supposed to provide a variety of details to the IRS, yet this specific Whitaker-led group circumvented the IRS on a number of occasions.

Potentially in an attempt to cover this up, Whitaker had failed to provide his financial disclosure documents [11]. After media pressure, the disclosure forms have been released, however these forms are generally released in a far prompter fashion. As the head of the charity group, Whitaker had routinely appeared on TV and radio to blast Democrats for their policies. Hilariously, in the application to the IRS, the Whitaker-led group declared that it was nonpartisan. Although the IRS prohibits charities from engaging in political campaigns, they don’t actually enforce this clause. It’s likely due to the fact that the GOP punished the IRS with funding cuts for pursuing cases against GOP tax-exempt groups [12,13].

So we’ve got a temporary Attorney General who has openly questioned the scope of Mueller’s investigation into Trump and Russia’s influence on the election AND he’s received over a million dollars from an incredibly sketchy group (whose donors we can’t identify). Unsurprisingly, Trump has stated that he “wouldn’t stop” Whitaker from limiting the Mueller probe [14].

It’s a scary time in the political realm these days. Made all the more terrifying by a Republican party that seems to care little for the rule of law. All ultimately perpetuated by voters who are willfully ignorant to the reality of the situation (i.e. FAKE NEWS!) or simply don’t care so long as Democrats aren’t in power. It seems to be a scenario where they’d rather bite off their nose to spite their face.

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