A former federal prosecutor explained on Christmas Eve why reports that President Donald Trump has been "lashing out" at his own acting attorney general over the prosecution of his former aide looks very suspicious.
CNN reported over the weekend that Trump has taken to berating Matthew Whitaker, the controversial Justice Department official he promoted to acting attorney general last month, after the DOJ pressed charges against Michael Cohen.
CNN noted that the reporting didn't suggest that Trump directed Whitaker to quash the charges -- but according to Elie Honig, a former assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, just the pressure could spell trouble for him.
"It doesn't matter if the president lashed out or if he asked really nicely," Honig said. "The bottom line is: it's patently obvious what his message was to Matthew Whitaker, which was, 'Get the Southern District off my back, you need to make sure the Southern District doesn't do things in the future that reflect poorly on me.'"
"Maybe he didn't say, 'Make sure they don't,' but if he said, 'I'm angry that this happened,' any boss giving any subordinate that message is entirely clear what he means," the former prosecutor said. "He means, 'don't let this happen again.'"
Noting that he was employed by the SDNY, Honig said that his former employer is "famously independent" and would not prosecute for political reasons regardless of who was in the White House.
"The Southern District is completely apolitical," the former AUSA said. "And to have the president leaning on the acting attorney general to back the southern district down is right on the border, perhaps, over the line of obstruction."