When Donald Trump announced last week that he was ousting Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replacing him with Matthew Whitaker in an acting capacity, it doesn’t appear Trump considered the possibility that Whitaker might have to recuse himself from theTrump-Russia probe. This is remarkable considering that Sessions recused himself the minute he got into trouble, and that Whitaker is arguably in an even more problematic position. After several days of taking a beating, Whitaker just very publicly blinked.
Matthew Whitaker just announced through a Department of Justice spokesperson, relayed by CBS News and others, that he’s planning to “consult with senior ethics officials at DOJ about possible recusal in Special Counsel investigation.” This doesn’t automatically mean that he’s going to recuse himself, but it means he’s figured out he’s looking at real trouble for himself if he doesn’t recuse. The key here is that he publicly announced it.
This means that Whitaker has blinked. If he ends up deciding not to recuse himself, after having publicly acknowledged that even he knows there are conflicts of interest, it’ll make it far easier for the Democrats to force him to recuse himself.
It’s not difficult to parse why Matthew Whitaker might be worried about his own fate. Before taking the gig, he announced via multiple media outlets that he thought the Trump-Russia investigation should be sabotaged from within. If he now goes ahead and does that, after having already admitted that he had bad faith intentions, he could easily end up facing felony obstruction of justice charges. Donald Trump surely told Whitaker that he’d be fine and not to worry about it – but Trump keeps telling his people that, and they keep ending up in prison.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report