President Donald Trump appears to be continuing his streak of feeling no need to respect traditional separation of powers. The commander in chief has lashed out at his hand-picked Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker for failing to do more to control the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office and its prosecution of Michael Cohen, according to CNN. This happened at least twice. The first time when Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow and another when prosecutors implicated him in a plan to buy the silence of women who said they had affairs with him.
CNN insists that its sources never said that Trump even suggested Whitaker needed to stop the investigation. Rather, they insist, the president was simply letting off some steam about a situation that he saw as unfair. But he also wondered why more wasn’t being done to control the prosecutors who had brought the charges that implicated Trump.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff blasted the president for even discussing the case with Whitaker. “The President of the United States should not be discussing any criminal case in which he has been implicated with the Acting Attorney General,” Schiff wrote on Twitter. “This is wrong, unethical and eviscerates post-Watergate policy. Whitaker should not need an ethics opinion to know this is inexcusable.”
Even if Trump didn’t personally order Whitaker to stop the prosecution, his attitude toward Whitaker illustrates how he sees the attorney general as someone who should personally look out for him and protect him. But these exchanges appear to demonstrate how little Whitaker appears to have been able to do to scrap investigations against the president. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo explains:
This tends to confirm my overall sense of Whitaker’s appointment. It is clear as day that Jeff Sessions was fired and replaced by Whitaker because Trump wanted an AG who would represent him and protect him. That was the plan. Whitaker was clearly down with that plan and very clearly lobbied for the job as someone who could deliver.
The bigger picture though is that Robert Mueller and to a lesser but still significant extent Rod Rosenstein are major DC law enforcement and national security heavyweights who have a lot of clout, reputation and experience. Whitaker meanwhile is basically a punk – a short term US Attorney at one of the smaller regional offices who has spent most of his career in low budget hustles and fraudulent enterprises. He was quickly overtaken by his own scandals and possible legal jeopardy. He likely had his hands full protecting himself and had neither the time nor the ability to act effectively on Trump’s behalf.