Here are some things to know about Matthew Whitaker, the current acting attorney general. According to remarks he gave at a forum in 2014, Whitaker thinks judges should be guided by the New Testament. That same year, he was a paid advisor to World Patent Marketing, a company that was shut down by a federal judge and fined almost $26 million for allegedly running an invention-promotion scam. In 2007, as U.S. Attorney, Whitaker was accused of a politically motivated—and ultimately unsuccessful—prosecution on extortion charges of Matt McCoy, Iowa’s first openly gay senator.
But that was then. Most importantly to our purposes now, the new AG has frequently disparaged the Mueller investigation. As The Editorial Board of The New York Times put it on Thursday: “Mr. Whitaker—who has been called the ‘eyes and ears’ of the White House inside the Justice Department by John Kelly, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff—has expressed a Trumpian degree of hostility to the investigation he is now charged with overseeing. He has called it a ‘witch hunt’ and, in its earliest months, wrote an opinion piece arguing that Mr. Mueller was coming ‘dangerously close’ to crossing a ‘red line’ by investigating the president’s finances.”
Well there are red lines, but then again there are also blue waves. Barely had we recovered from election-returns watching, when news broke that the president had pressured Jeff Sessions into resigning and appointed this guy Whitaker in his place. His meteoric ascension was met by 900 street demonstrations across the country, organized under the rubric, “Nobody Is Above the Law—Mueller Protection Rapid Response.” By Friday morning, Trump was on the White House lawn saying he didn’t really know Whitaker at all. Other sources beg to differ: On Vox, Murray Waas reported, “Whitaker’s open sympathizing with Trump’s frequent complaints about the Mueller investigation resulted in an unusually close relationship between a president and a staffer of his level. The president met with Whitaker in the White House, often in the Oval Office, at least 10 times, a former senior administration official told me.”
Asked directly by CNN’s Abby Phillip whether he believed his new appointee would “rein in” Mueller, the president became apoplectic. “What a stupid question. What a stupid question that is,” he fulminated. This was of a piece with his continual demeaning of African-American women journalists—this week, he also called April Ryan “a loser” and characterized a question from Yamiche Alcindor about nationalism as “racist.”
On election night, the president, quoting Ben Stein, tweeted about himself: “Mr. Trump has magic about him. This guy has magic coming out of his ears.” But the next morning, steam, not magic, was emanating from his presidential ears. At an insane press conference, he went off on CNN’s Jim Acosta: “I’ll tell you what, CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN,” he sputtered when Acosta attempted to bring up immigration and the Russia probe. Later that day, Acosta arrived at the White House to find his press credentials had been yanked; that night, the administration released a video that many critics considered doctored, showing Acosta allegedly manhandling a young woman tasked with moving the microphone around to various members of the press. (To our knowledge, no one has asked this nameless intern for her account of the incident.)
In other news of the week, a federal judge has blocked construction of the Keystone pipeline, a blow to the president; Trump issued a proclamation denying asylum to migrants who he says enter illegally; and The Wall Street Journal reported that he was deeply involved in hush money payments to two former paramours, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.
If the prez was in a grumpy mood when he left for Paris on Friday, he was in even worse sprits yesterday, with the announcement that three races in Florida—including contests for the senate and for governor—had joined the Arizona senate race and the Georgia gubernatorial in too-close-to-call territory, and were now subject to a recount. In a series of missives from the City of Light he offered, “Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!”
He had plenty of time to tweet. On Saturday, the commander in chief did not join other world leaders at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, where some 1,800 American soldiers were killed during World War I, because of what the White House called “scheduling and logistical difficulties, caused by the weather.” In other words, it was raining.
Despite the dark skies, he did bestir himself to attend the ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the armistice today at the Arc de Triomphe. Standing with hundreds of other dignitaries, Trump heard French President Emmanuel Macron warn, through a translator, “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying, ‘Our interests first, who cares about the others,’ we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great and what is essential: its moral values. I know there are old demons which are coming back to the surface. They are ready to wreak chaos and death. History sometimes threatens to take its sinister course once again.”