Justice Department says Trump has power to name Whitaker
Matthew Whitaker [Photo: screengrab from video]

The U.S. Justice Department defended the legality of President Donald Trump’s appointment of Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker on Wednesday, saying he has the authority to name a replacement for the fired Jeff Sessions outside of the department’s line of succession.

In a legal opinion sent to the White House, the department’s Office of Legal Counsel said that the president can “depart from the succession order” that was established by one federal law by using a separate law known as the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. Critics have accused Trump of overstepping his constitutional authority and breaking federal law in his appointment of Whitaker last week after forcing Sessions to resign as attorney general.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Susan Heavey and Will Dunham