A new report from the New York Review of Books shed lights on the suspicious circumstances around former Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker’s unexpected departure from the Justice Department.
Whitaker was promoted acting attorney general — in an appointment many legal experts believed was unconstitutional — last November, after President Donald Trump fired Jeff Sessions. Trump had lambasted Sessions for failing to oversee the special counsel investigation, despite his recusal, and Whitaker was widely seen as a crony installed to protect him from the looming investigations.
Once Attorney General Bill Barr was confirmed, Whitaker was expected to move into a lower-ranking position — only to quit shortly after the move was announced. His departure appears to be linked to his questioning before Congress that sought to determine whether Trump asked Whitaker to interfere in the department’s investigations that encircle him.
As the DOJ inspector general received requests to review Whitaker’s conduct as attorney general, he decided to leave his job altogether, rather than be fired for refusing to cooperate in an investigation, according to the NYRB.
Reporter Murray Waas wrote:
A senior Justice Department official in whom Whitaker confided about the matter told me that Whitaker expressed serious concerns over testifying about conversations that he had with the president about the SDNY’s investigation. Whitaker apparently did not understand that by taking a new job with the Justice Department, he could be required to discuss those conversations with the Inspector General. Whitaker, I was told, seemed relieved to learn that after he left the department, he likely could not be compelled to cooperate. Whitaker then sought out other Justice Department officials, this person told me, to determine whether there was any current investigation by the Inspector General at the time. Told that there was not one, but might be one soon, Whitaker resigned.
In one of Whitaker’s conversations (as acting attorney general) with the president, which Whitaker conveyed to others, Trump had questioned him as to whether the SDNY had been overzealous or unfair in its handling of Michael Cohen, a former executive vice president of the Trump Organization, the president’s personal attorney, and “fixer.” Whitaker’s account of that conversation may be crucial to investigators because the president also asked Whitaker if anything could be done to rein in the SDNY’s investigation.
When he was before Congress, Whitaker generally refused to discuss conversations he had with the president. But were he to face the IG, such an attempt would likely fail. Now that Whitaker is officially out of government, investigators may never be able to get the truth about what he discussed with Trump.