Immediately following the 2018 midterm elections last week, Donald Trump fired U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, replacing him with Matthew Whitaker, a former cable news pundit known for his outspoken criticisms of the Russia collusion investigation run by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. In fact, in a CNN interview, Whitaker even outlined how he would stifle the Mueller investigation, if he had the power.
In an interview on Wednesday, as Inquisitr reported, Trump appeared to admit that he selected Whitaker to at least temporarily replace Sessions because of his objections to the Russia probe, which Trump called “illegal” and “an investigation that should have never been brought.”
Sessions had recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, a job that would normally fall to the attorney general, due to his own Russia ties — a recusal that angered Trump, as New York Magazine has documented, even though Sessions was legally required to recuse due to false statements he made during his confirmation hearings about his contacts with Russian officials.
Despite his numerous statements opposing the Russia investigation, Whitaker has said that he will not recuse himself from overseeing Mueller’s activities, according to CNN correspondent Josh Dawsey, who reported Whitaker’s statements on his Twitter account.
But if Trump believed that he had outsmarted Mueller by placing Whitaker in charge of his investigation into Trump’s alleged Russian connections, and how they might have influenced the 2016 presidential election, he may have made a serious mistake, according to a report on Friday by ABC News.
As acting attorney general, Whitaker would be able to approve or deny any request by Mueller to issue an indictment, but according to ABC News, it appears that Mueller has already issued “dozens” of sealed indictments in a Washington, D.C., federal court. Because they are sealed, ABC could not confirm that the indictments come from Mueller.
“But several legal experts told ABC News the number of sealed cases awaiting action right now is unusual. Fourteen were added to the docket since late August alone, a review by ABC News has found, just as the midterm elections were drawing near and longstanding Justice Department policy precluded prosecutors from taking any public action that could appear to be aimed at influencing political outcomes,” the network reported.
Because the sealed indictments were issued before Whitaker was placed in charge of the U.S. Justice Department, they would have come under the jurisdiction of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, meaning that Whitaker has no authority to stop them. Any effort to quash the indictments would have to be decided by a judge, according to ABC News.
“You can’t prevent a new AG from blocking new indictments,” former Justice Department official Mathew Miller told ABC News. “But if you were ready to move on cases, you could return a bunch of indictments under seal. If the stumbling block is approval from Mueller’s supervisors, you get that approval while you still have a supervisor who approves of your work.”