More than 400 former Justice Department staff members have called for the removal of acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, arguing that his appointment violated the Constitution because he lacked Senate confirmation required of other Cabinet officials, reports USA Today. A statement organized by the watchdog group Protect Democracy was signed by alums, many of whom served both Democratic and Republican administrations. “We are disturbed by the president’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker to serve as Acting Attorney General,” the statement said. “Because of the profound responsibilities the position entails and the independence it requires, it can only be filled by someone who has been subjected to the strictest scrutiny under the process required by the Constitution.”
Whitaker’s appointment also has drawn fire because of his past public statements, which criticized the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election led by special counsel Robert Mueller. Whitaker now oversees that investigation. The Justice Department defends Whitaker’s appointment, asserting that his senior executive status as ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ former chief of staff “unquestionably” authorized him to serve despite his lack of Senate confirmation. Mark Zanides, a former anti-terrorism chief in the San Francisco U.S. Attorney’s Office that Mueller once led, opposes Whitaker, saying he lacked both Senate approval and “the adequate experience necessary to serve as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.” “This guy is not qualified – period,” said Zanides, who served in the San Francisco office from 1979 to 2006.