- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 18, 2018

Rep. Adam Schiff of California on Sunday said Democrats will be keeping a close eye on acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, deeming him a “flawed appointment” who cannot be trusted to guide the Russia investigation.

Mr. Schiff, who is poised to become chairman of the House intelligence committee, said his panel will root out and expose any efforts Mr. Whitaker takes to curb special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into potential interference in the 2016 election. The acting attorney general has criticized the scope of the investigation in the past.

Mr. Schiff also said Mr. Trump’s decision to tap Mr. Whitaker is unconstitutional — the lawyer hasn’t been confirmed by the Senate — and goes around the succession statute that guides the Justice Department.

“It’s a flawed appointment,” Mr. Schiff told ABC’s This Week. “The biggest flaw from my point of view is that he was chosen for the purpose of interfering with the Mueller investigation.”

“He needs to know that if he takes any action to curb what Mr. Mueller does, we’re going to find out about it,” the congressman added. “We’re going to expose it.”

Mr. Trump lashed out at Mr. Schiff on Twitter, misspelling the congressman’s name in a way that could be interpreted as a scatological insult.

“So funny to see little Adam Schitt (D-CA) talking about the fact that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker was not approved by the Senate, but not mentioning the fact that Bob Mueller (who is highly conflicted) was not approved by the Senate!” the president tweeted Sunday.

Special counsels are appointed by the Justice Department, however, and do not require Senate approval.

Mr. Schiff responded back sarcastically on Twitter: “Wow, Mr. President, that’s a good one. Was that like your answers to Mr. Mueller’s questions, or did you write this one yourself?”

Mr. Trump’s outbursts over the probe are unnerving members of his own party.

Retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, recently said he will not vote to advance any new judicial nominees through the Judiciary Committee, nor will he vote to confirm picks on the Senate floor, until he sees a vote on a bill that would prevent Mr. Mueller from being fired without good cause.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has blocked that vote as unnecessary, flustering Mr. Flake.

“How in the world my colleagues don’t see this as a priority now I just don’t understand,” Mr. Flake told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Mr. Trump named Mr. Whitaker to the top post at the Justice Department after demanding Jeff Sessions’ resignation. Mr. Sessions had recused himself from the Russia probe, infuriating Mr. Trump.

Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat, said Sunday it was awfully suspicious that Mr. Trump nudged aside Mr. Sessions, since the former senator from Alabama was in a “lock step” with the president on policy.

“The only thing they disagreed on was the Russian probe,” Mr. Lieu told MSNBC.

Democrats want Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a man they better trust, to oversee the special counsel’s probe.

The Justice Department says that is legal because Mr. Whitaker, while not serving in a Senate-confirmed position, was high enough at the department to be eligible under the Vacancies Reform Act.

Democrats say the VRA takes a back seat to another law that lays out a succession pattern at the Justice Department. That law says the deputy attorney general would usually take over.

The Justice Department, though, says the laws aren’t mutually exclusive, and said it’s opined since the Bush years that a president could use the VRA to name someone other than the deputy as acting attorney general.

The bigger fight is over the Constitution, and a clause that says principal officers must have undergone Senate confirmation.

The Justice Department said that doesn’t hold true for temporary acting officers, and pointed to an occasion in 1866 when a nonconfirmed person served as acting attorney general.

Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said Mr. Whitaker appears to be a capable stand-in, though the real issue is who should serve over the long haul.

“We need to move as quickly as we can beyond whoever’s the acting attorney general to an attorney general that’s going to be there for hopefully a much longer period of time,” Mr. Blunt told ABC.

⦁ Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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