President Trump’s move last week to install Mathew Whitaker as Robert Mueller’s boss in the Russia special counsel investigation may already be backfiring, Politico reports. The appointment of the acting attorney general has drawn bipartisan criticism and led to questions about Whitaker’s qualifications and whether he would limit the investigation or bury its findings. The state of Maryland on Tuesday filed the first legal challenge seeking to overturn Whitaker’s appointment, while on Capitol Hill newly empowered House Democrats are already making plans to have Whitaker appear as one of their first witnesses when the next Congress launches in January.
The uproar over the appointment, which effectively removes Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as Mueller’s primary supervisor, has put Whitaker in a difficult spot, trapped between setting off a political firestorm by clipping Mueller’s wings and angering a president intent on having him do just that. Whitaker, who in his public criticism of the Russia investigation has even invoked the president’s “witch hunt” language, may also find that he is limited in his ability to quash the investigation. Andrew McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney and National Review columnist who has been a vocal critic of the Mueller probe, told Politico he doesn’t believe that Whitaker would do anything to disrupt the investigation. “What you find when you get in, those things are very hard to untangle,” McCarthy said. “You tend to let them work the way they’re working. With Mueller, it’s such a politically fraught field, and I don’t think there’s any reason to do anything than try to move it along.” Mueller’s office faces a deadline next Monday to tell a federal appellate court panel what the changes atop the Justice Department mean for a lawsuit that seeks to knock the special counsel out of his job on constitutional grounds.