The Department of Justice announced today that Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker will not have to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation. This news is already sending shockwaves across cable news, and viewers are ready to hit the panic button. But back in the real world, this new development probably doesn’t mean anything at all.
This was simply a review to see if Matt Whitaker’s past remarks about Robert Mueller were enough to disqualify him from being able to do his job with regard to Mueller. For whatever reason, the DOJ Ethics Committee decided Whitaker is good to go in this regard. But this only clears Whitaker to do things that are legal, which pretty much means just signing off on whatever legally reasonable moves Mueller wants to make.
This ruling absolutely 100% does not mean that Whitaker now magically gets to fire Robert Mueller, or anything along those lines. Such moves would represent felony obstruction of justice on Whitaker’s part, and he would risk going to prison accordingly. So this still entirely comes down to whether Whitaker is afraid of what Mueller can do to him, which is what it’s come down to from day one. If Whitaker were planning to commit the felony of making a move against Mueller, he’d have done it by now, instead of waiting for today’s ruling, which has zero to do with whether he’s allowed to commit such a felony.
Cable news will spend the day hyping the Matthew Whitaker non-recusal story because it’s nice and scary sounding to those who want Donald Trump taken down, and that kind of fear is great for ratings. But this ruling today probably means nothing at all. There are no magic wands in this scandal. Nothing has changed. Everyone in the DOJ has wisely let Mueller write his own ticket all along, and it’s likely to stay that way.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report