Jeff Sessions has resigned. The news was tweeted by President Donald Trump in the aftermath of a heated press conference in which he addressed the results of the midterm elections.
Sessions’ resignation has introduced a name into the political consciousness that most Americans probably aren’t familiar with — Matthew Whitaker. Now that Sessions is out, Whitaker, his former chief of staff, has been named acting attorney general.
“We are pleased to announce that Matthew G. Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States. He will serve our Country well….” Trump tweeted.
Whitaker’s appointment may be concerning for anyone who wants Robert Mueller’s probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election to continue.
As CNBC notes, now that he’s the interim attorney general, Whitaker will now oversee an investigation that Sessions previously recused himself from. Sessions recused himself, citing a conflict of interest, because he actively campaigned to get President Trump elected.
In an op-ed for CNN in August, Whitaker admonished Mueller and his team for investigating the Trump family finances.
“It does not take a lawyer or even a former federal prosecutor like myself to conclude that investigating Donald Trump’s finances or his family’s finances falls completely outside of the realm of his 2016 campaign and allegations that the campaign coordinated with the Russian government or anyone else,” Whitaker wrote.
Newsweek reports that the new acting attorney general has also downplayed the relevance of the Trump Tower meeting between members of the Trump campaign, Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian lawyer who claimed that she had negative intel on Hillary Clinton.
On the other hand, in a 2017 op-ed for the Hill, Whitaker demanded a deeper investigation into a meeting involving an official in the Democratic Party and representatives of the Ukranian government during the lead up to the presidential election. He wrote this article before he joined Sessions’ Justice Department.
Whitaker, a native of Des Moines, Iowa — and a former college football player — has had a few previous unsuccessful runs for office.
According to Newsweek, he tried to become the Republican candidate for the Senate in 2014 and lost. Before that, in 2002, he ran for State Treasurer in Iowa — but lost the race to Democrat Michael Fitzgerald.
The appointment as acting attorney general does not mean that Matthew Whitaker will officially take over Sessions’ empty post. In a subsequent tweet, Trump also announced that the “permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date.”
Whitaker’s appointment may mean that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s future at the Justice Department could be in question.
Rosenstein’s role in overseeing the Mueller probe came under fire earlier this year, after the New York Times reported claims that he’d suggested the wearing of a wire during conversations with Trump. The New York Times also reported claims that Rosenstein had mentioned using the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from office.