Has This Been the Plan Since August 2017?
Maggie Haberman just observed that Jeff Sessions’ resignation letter is not dated. (Update: NYCSouthpaw actually noted that before Maggie did.) While some of the details in it — such as his claim to have “prosecuted the largest number of violent offenders and firearm defendants in our nation’s history” — seem to reflect the full 22 months of his tenure, nothing in it clearly marks it as having been written today. So I think that is what probably happened.
But there’s a scenario that makes me wonder whether this isn’t what Trump has been planning since July 2017, the last time Trump got really furious with Jeff Sessions.
Consider this timeline:
July 19, 2017: Maggie and Mike tee up a question (obviously working from the White House script) about how investigating Trump’s finances would represent crossing a red line.
On July 25 and 26, 2017, Trump took to Twitter to bitch about Sessions.
July 26, 2017: In a CNN interview, Whitaker describes how you could defund the Special Counsel and thereby end his work.
I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced, it would recess appointment and that attorney general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigations grinds to almost a halt.
On July 27, 2017, Whitaker said it would be a mistake to provide Mueller any further protection.
August 4, 2017: Whitaker recommends an article that describes, “with a little planning he could install a true believer to a political position at DOJ—as a sleeper agent—and then (after easing out Sessions) elevate him or her to attorney general.”
August 6, 2017: Whitaker uses the Red Line comment Maggie and Mike teed up to describe Mueller pursuing Trump’s finances as improper.
On August 25, 2017, Whitaker suggested searching Manafort’s condo with a dozen agents was designed to intimidate him.
On September 22, 2017, Whitaker was hired to be Sessions’ Chief of Staff.
In other words, Trump may have been pursuing this plan since July 2017.
If so, then Mueller may have already anticipated that, because he asked four questions about that episode in March, as well as questions about what he did in response to Sessions’ earlier recusal.
- What did you think and do regarding the recusal of Mr. Sessions?
- What efforts did you make to try to get him to change his mind?
- Did you discuss whether Mr. Sessions would protect you, and reference past attorneys general?
- What did you think and what did you do in reaction to the news of the appointment of the special counsel?
- Why did you hold Mr. Sessions’s resignation until May 31, 2017, and with whom did you discuss it?
- What discussions did you have with Reince Priebus in July 2017 about obtaining the Sessions resignation? With whom did you discuss it?
- What discussions did you have regarding terminating the special counsel, and what did you do when that consideration was reported in January 2018?
- What was the purpose of your July 2017 criticism of Mr. Sessions?
Whatever it was, Trump obtained Sessions’ resignation before today’s press conference, so it’s possible Whitaker already tried to move against Mueller today, relying on the ground work he laid over a year ago.
The one thing that would suggest otherwise is the plea deal Manafort entered. I’ve argued that it is pardon proof, partly because it would include state charges and partly because Manafort would lose all his ill-gotten gains if Trump didn’t pardon him first. For reasons I won’t write up yet, I’m not sure that’s entirely true (though Manafort has provided a lot of information in the last several months).
That’d be way better planning than Trump has pulled off on any other thing. But then, protecting himself is the thing he’s best at.
Update: I’ve added a few things to this timeline.
Update: According to John Q Barrett, who spent some time in the CNN Green Room last year, his entire point for going on CNN was to curry favor with Trump.
Whitaker told me in June 2017 that he was flying out from Iowa to NYC to be on CNN regularly because he was hoping to be noticed as a Trump defender, and through that to get a Trump judicial appointment back in Iowa.
And this (very detailed) WaPo piece describes Trump as telling aides he would not recuse, which raises questions about whether Whitaker told him so directly.
Trump has told advisers that Whitaker is loyal and would not have recused himself from the investigation, current and former White House officials said.
Marcy, would contacting the DoJ Ethics Office help, do you think?
If sessions was recused from russia investigation because of his involvement, my understanding is that he wouldn’t even necessarily be briefed on investigation, no? I don’t know DOJ guidelines here but if that is correct, is it safe to assume his chief of staff likewise would have no reason to know the investigation?
I could see whittaker writing what he thought was a meaningless op-ed if nothing else so Trump would remember his name in meetings. Then trump picks whittaker almost if not entirely because he was informed of the op-ed. One useful idiot recognizing himself in another. my .02
Everyone is assuming that this was somehow the president’s plan. Given Whitaker’s background, and the dark money pools, the efforts to hide Whitaker’s far right connections, his public statements that had they been spoken by government officials at the time would have been textbook recommendations for further obstruction of justice counts, well, we have no idea who he was really working for do we? His organization FACT may just as well have been another conduit to russian cash and taking orders from russian state actors. We do not know for sure who thought his hire at DoJ was a good idea. I have my doubts about it originating inside the WH, because if it did it was pretty lame, so obvious, and so guaranteed to make things worse for the entire russiagate situation.
Whitaker is clearly a hit man sent in to botch up the SCO’s investigation, and I just do not think our fat orange spy in chief is smart enough to plan a week in advance no less well over a year in advance.
This would require a staggering amount of cunning forethought and discipline from POTUS. I can’t imagine it.
There are those around Trump who are smarter than he is (so is a wall clock), who know the Beltway and how big organizations subject to public scrutiny work, how they game the system to create one face for the public and one for the bureaucracy that makes things work.
Whitaker’s Aug. 4, 2017, recommendation of Eric Columbus’s Aug. 3, 2017, article, that strategizes about how to insert a mole into both Sessions’s staff and the DoJ more generally, is exactly the role Whitaker just performed.
I agree with Marsi, and while you are right in one respect, he does take orders from someone smarter than he, that pool of people is very limited (a lot of people are smarter, the limited part is who he takes orders from, I say it is one person only). He has fired or forced out almost all he originally started with who he relied upon for advice, or they have pleaded guilty already. Who was around prior to Whitaker’s Op Ed to CNN that outlined his hire and recess appointment? Who would go in and muck up the investigations then be replaced a short time later? I would not bet two cents any of the usual suspects back then could get the WH to go along with a plan that had that kind of timeline. It would have been summer of 2017 when someone said “Hey, what about this Whitaker guy?” We could put him in the DoJ then next year after the mid-terms we can fire Jeff and promote this nobody to AG to specifically foul up Bob Mueller.
I am pretty sure that 18 months ago when this plan would have been hatched they all were thinking that if the investigation dragged on that long they were all going to be in orange jumpsuits. The entire investigation was too fluid to plan that far in advance. And/or the plan would have been moved up about the time Manafort or Cohen were being arrested. No, that makes no sense, this is a very recent plan, Whitaker was hired because someone outside the WH demanded it, ordered it to happen.
And then there is this to consider, would innocent parties be planning such subterfuge and long-term contingency plans? This makes them all look so guilty it exceeds anything else to date along those lines. I mean it would have been far more plausible if Whitaker or someone like him had been hired just a couple months ago, and elevated to Acting AG, like a spontaneous thing, but this is far too well planned. Someone is acting as conductor of an orchestra behind the scenes and not one of the major players mentioned so far since 2016 even comes close to that description other than Putin himself. Unless we have a secret mastermind we would never guess at, but one thing for certain is Trump has neither the temperament nor the IQ to be thinking that deeply nor even to listen to advisers. He takes orders from someone rather than considers options offered to him by those in the WH.
I can’t imagine Trump thinking of anything, really, but I can easily imagine someone – maybe even Whitaker himself – coming up with the plan and pitching it to him. He runs it by his lawyers, they say it might work, he says “go ahead”: no thought required.
Responding to [email protected]:45 below, I’m guessing the deal could’ve been that Sessions agrees to hire Whitaker, Trump agrees to let him live out his white supremacist power trip until the time came that he really needed to kill the Russia investigation, else Trump would just fire him. So long as Sessions was recused, one AG was as good as another – it’s not like Grifter-in-Chief cares what any of his appointees actually do, besides protect him and fete him regularly.
Odds are that the White House recommended Whitaker to Sessions as his COS, a role that avoids a public Senate confirmation, and that Sessions accepted Whitaker as part of the price he had to pay to remain AG.
Byzantine, but Sessions put up with the gelding of his management authority to have and hold his office. A mephistophelian bargain that probably hasn’t worked out well for Jeffy. It sure hasn’t for the country.
Sessions was part of the kill switch plot all along? If so, it’s positively diabolical.
Like Marcy said, the Dems better figure out that we are already in a constitutional crisis (and come up with a plan). You know McConnell would be devising one right now, had the roles been reversed. It was a pretty pitiful limp statement by Schumer (and he found out at the same time Trump was giving the press conference, not after).
i recall reading early-on in the trump era that the white house had placed these political spies and controllers in every secretariat and agency.
When your prime requisite in all hiring is loyalty, the presentation of willing spies and saboteurs is a direct consequence.
If you look at Trump’s response to sessions it was his lack of “loyalty” that bothered him the most, loyalty that trump has demanded and received from his B squad if not the A. This loyalty was clearly Whittaker’s prime asset in trumplandia’s view. Whether he was selected because of this plot or if he is just playing his role because of his zeal the end result is the same.
The only question is whether anyone else has planned for this as well. My sense is that Schumer at least still can’t tell what he is really up against perhaps because he keeps expecting the dealmaker to return, or because he too has fallen for the idiot wizard and is ignoring the team behind the curtains.
…specifically, about Sessions being weak on investigating Clinton.
Just before this article was posted, Kyle Griffin had just tweeted:
Here is something from Open Secrets about “FACT”:
New nonprofit tied to stealthy circle of dark money groups https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2016/04/new-nonprofit-tied-to-stealthy-circle-of-dark-money-groups/
April 15, 2016
Joshua Benton has compiled a list:
so now secretary clinton will become the scapegoat for the office of special counsel’s investigation of the trump-russian collusion in 2016.
you know, these guys out to accept session’s resignation and go out the back door quietly, but they can’t bring themselves to do it. if they go after clinton, and she and others retaliate by attacking trump’s record and the hidden, far-right money behind it, these guys might finally meet their waterloo. in any event, expect some very serious violations of american norms of law and political behavior from trump, his white house, and what is now his dept of justice, certain now to become his political prosecution dept of justice.
the national democratic party had better get its “challenge trump’s legitimacy and fairness” offense up and running fast; playing defense with this guy will not work.
What I fear is the case is that Schumer and Pelosi had no game plan ready for when this happened. They’ll try to make it up as they go along, always a step or three behind.
pelosi and schumer have been around a time or two. the comittee chairs will carry a lot and they too are experienced, especially cummings, schiff, and waters. i think the key is not what has been planned out before, but that the dems attack the motives of those planning to hand trump a get out of jail card. whether schumer has the stomach for this or not is my biggest question.
I think the problem is that they really don’t get how to break through the default media coverage, which has become simply report what he says. They’re lucky if they get a reply buried in the end of a report or article. They are far, far to restrained, and far too reluctant to leak, grandstand, and do whatever else they need get through.
The weird thing about Schumer is that he used to be one of those guys who was the subject of the joke about the most dangerous place in Washington was between him and a camera. He used to be far, far more sharp about crafting soundbites, pushing himself out front, and getting his message out. Now, if he does, it sounds like he’s struggling to focused.
But that assumes that there are any records left when they take office in January. Many documents can go down the hole while the “lame ducks” are still in their seats.
Maybe this was all planned since way before August 2017, by others who pulled Trump’s strings…PUPPET.
–Maggie Haberman just observed that Jeff Sessions’ resignation letter is not dated.– Can’t remember the location, or if it was even on this site, but I do recall a discussion from many months ago about Sessions giving Trump an undated resignation letter just in case…
this admin doesn’t plan, collectively anyways.
perhaps whittaker suggested this a year ago, but no doubt sessions would not have been fired if he simply had done what trump wanted and got rid of mueller.
I’d think Mueller would have a harder job getting close to Donald than a House committee with a Dem majority.
Trump was elected through a fluke and with a minority of the cast votes. He hasn’t been the majority POTUS for a second. He has never broken a 50% approval for more than a brief fleeting period.
So given all that strength and support, imagine his reelection campaign with the House slowly exposing him. Also, I’d say all the rallying and fear mongering the past few weeks actually accomplished little. Because the stable genius was only preaching to the choir, not to swing voters. If Trump really was hot stuff, he wouldn’t have gone only to safe states where nothing was at risk.
I know; time will tell.
Trump/Kelly may have held on to the letter from an earlier date, but Sessions had to agree to resign today. He could have refused and gotten fired.
That photo you used is definitely from another time (by several decades).
This is great:
Verified account @ClintSmithIII
that indeed is brilliant, @trip at 6:08 p.m.
When it became clear recently that Whitaker was going to be Sessions’ replacement, it was unclear to me why Sessions did not pre-emptively fire Whitaker. Was he not able to fire his own chief of staff? Curious as to what others think. Thanks.
I don’t think Sessions was ever fully in charge of the DoJ. I think that’s one reason he was picked and why Trump didn’t fire him sooner. Whitaker would not have been the only White House mole. The good news is that Mueller’s ship, and this would include Rosenstein, probably leaked less than any other in the DoJ.
To a surprising degree, Cabinet secretaries can have limited input on their hires and fires. It’s not uncommon for them to find out someone who is essentially an informant has been sent to them by the White House, with no option to say no, unless they want to quit or have their life made miserable, including after they’ve left office.
A relatively recent phenomenon. During the BushCheney years, Dick Cheney was famous for saying that personnel is policy. He not only controlled many of his administration’s appointments, he placed political commissars at the bureaucratic level in most federal agencies. But that was considered unusual and wrong.
There was definitely chafing during the Obama years about the White House keeping control over the political personnel in departments and agencies, but in general it was still a much lighter touch than what happened under GW Bush/Cheney and Trump/Pence. In large part it was because Obama wanted competent people running his government, instead of hacks.
@BobCon Hillary wasn’t even allowed wed to choose her Deputy at State
But Cheney was not a cabinet secretary…he was virtually the POTUS
Whether Whitaker and Trump’s team planned his ascent to the office or if Whitaker was just auditioning with public comments probably doesn’t make a big difference does it? Either way he’s there.
Our president is married to the Russian mob. (Perhaps?) I am thinking he’s had some help in how to use our nations deepest wounds to divide and conquer (it does come naturally to narcissists and active addicts, but he doesn’t seem smart enough to employ it at this level, and then again if you spend your whole life breaking and bending laws you might be able to do it fairly well without much thought.) And I am sure there are powerful people in the world who would want to protect him. He’s operating on a mob boss level but with incredibly small brain….and hands. I imagine he has help. (And I am not referring to his lawyers). So far he continues to deliver for HIS global partners in destroying our democracy. I am very grateful that Stacy Abrams is fighting the results with a recount and any measure she has. Of course it took an African American woman to know how to fight power and control. Speak truth to power but don’t react. Hillary reacted. I love Elizabeth Warren but she reacted. Every one who goes up against him will be pushed until they react and show their under belly of insecurities and defensiveness. Mueller gets it. Obama and Michelle get it. We need a “how to handle toxic narcissists class”. Avenatti blew it by reacting. I fear Pelosi will over play, but so far her tone has been fine. The minute we react we lose control of the narrative and we become the story line instead of him. It’s very hard to over throw a dictator.
I hope the Dems are ready to make truth and facts their higher power and refrain from engaging “small hands” in power struggles that he will always win. His power comes from operating outside of truth, law and morals which puts the rest of us at a huge disadvantage. And it will some times lure us to go low and we don’t fit in that world. Our only real power in response to him will come from our behavior matching the truth. Not exaggerated, not reactive, just doing what the truth requires. That’s the only way to beat a Narcissist. And time. He will eventually blow himself up, our job is to get busy figuring out how we will protect ourselves when he does it.
Here’s an interesting explanation of his Russian mob/KGB ties. I don’t think he’s actively conspiring with them as much as he’s being unwittingly used by them to cause chaos (and launder money).
And here’s how much respect they really have for him: EMIN – Got Me Good (Official Video)
Maybe they’re friends and Emin is just having fun, but I think he’s laughing at Trump and not with him.
15+ months seems like a long time for Trump to have a discrete act planned and not pull the trigger, though it does seem altogether likely that the letter was finished & in his possession for most of the mid-terms campaign, specifically to act on it today.
However, in large, this may well have been the White House strategy–is this something McGahn or Kelly would have worked out and executed? I can easily imagine Trump going for such a plan & thinking it is great, but it seems too tidy for him to pull off on his own.
come to think of it, what better place to start a dem in estigation than with than whitman himself, his political history, the appropriateness and legality of his appointment, the calculated effort to hand trump a get out of jail card, and his coterie of wealthy rightwing suppporters.
why, it’s kavanaugh redux!
another profoundly, documentably hyperpartisan republican inappropriately appointed to a job demanding fairness and even-handedness.
note: mueller and osc are not all of doj and its little brother, fbi, by a long shot.
Marcy retweeted NBC’s Ken Dilanian:
It would be hilarious if Mueller had an indictment ready to roll on Clovis in anticipation of this.
Post midterm – day 1: Trump sets the narrative.
The only thing I can be glad about is that it was this, rather than bombing Iran. I fear that’s not off the table, though.
Adam Klasfeld thread :
See above thread…his Wikipedia page is being edited as we speak.
ah, excellent. whitaker is the perfect target for a sustained dem barrage on the white house motives.
AND in that thread above, I learn twitter has suspended @ CongressEdits !?!?
See this thread for what happened to @ Congress Edits, per the man behind it:
Ed Summers “I would be posting this as @congressedits but @Twitter has temporarily blocked the account from tweeting. Fortunately, they did allow me to delete the tweets with the PII.…”
This is only a wild ass guess, but I’d guess that Whitaker has some white nationalist connection to recommend him to Trump.
Sam Clovis definitely did. Whitaker is in the same orbit as Clovis.
wow! bring on whitaker.
May I ask: is there anything that would prevent the new Democratic majority in the House from appointing their own Special Prosecutor once they are in power, and is there anything to stop that Special Prosecutor being Robert Mueller, and is there anything to stop Robert Mueller from simply transferring all his DOJ-appointed investigation and materials to a congressionally-appointed investigation and continuing where he left off?
I’d bet $20 that Trump has a similar letter from Rosenstein in his desk drawer.
MW linked to this twitter thread by Asha Rangappa, which is somewhat reassuring.
If she’s right, this may be part of a gradual crackdown rather than an immediate one.
Unless, of course, Trump is planning on throwing so much at the wall that he thinks nobody can keep up with it all.
This was full of great contextualizers, including that the FY budget is fresh.
Agreed–also recommend BobCon’s link. Very good panic antidote.
Whitaker’s name and possibilities were known a few months ago for close Trump scandal watchers. He was the last person floated as a potential player to fill this role.
Whitaker told others he was publicly auditioning for the role in June of 2017. He intended to catch Trump’s eye and he did. Trump like the lumpy thicko true believers who, in their aching earnest to become part of the hit squad, will signal they’ll do anything for “the movement”. This guy fit the bill, and angled his petition by defending the actions of Junior. That statement and others are clear evidence of conflict of interest and a requirement to recuse. Will the DOJ enforce their own rules in this regard, esp seeing as Whitaker was elevated to this role specifically to thwart the Mueller investigation (after all, dissemination of a report is everything)? Why would the latter yield any ground when that’s his raison d’etre, backed by the Corrupter in Chief?
You can bet he’s already been serving effectively as a mole, as have Benczkowski and others. Now they will demand a full briefing on all Rosenstein and Mueller know, which will be transmitted asap to Trump et al. And there’s really nothing the House can do about it. There’s a question in my mind as to whether R&M can *make it brief and avoid spilling all the beans. This interim appointment could potentially last into early spring, and he may well be installed permanently. If not him, someone just like him. But he can also do maximum damage in the interim. I think that if the interim appointment is allowed to stand for now (some are saying it is not constitutional), he may have as much as 6 months to wreak havoc in a temporary role. What will Trump’s lawyers do? Flood? The new Presidential Counsel? They’re being asked to violate the law.
good stuff. thanks.
To say the least this guy Whitaker is in way way way over of his head. The AG of the United States with a resume barely fit for the Des Moines Manpower office?
Trump has demonstrated time and again that loyalty as he sees it always outweighs job qualifications. Whittaker, whether planned or not, is another shining example of this.
I made a clip of the press conference and Jim’s and trumps exchange. Why? Cause my shoulders rise up to my ears w/stress so I hope I’m not off topic ..lol….just offering about 4 minutes of pleasure at seeing that evilness burn….and boy oh boy did he burn up w/anger. He looked like he wanted to bitch slap Jim.
Would Whitaker’s conversation with the WH or DOJ before Sept. 22(when he was hired) be covered by executive privilege?
…links to an article by Rekha Basu at The Des Moines Register, which was originally published on 5/4/14
Matthew Whitaker’s troubling opinion: Judges need a biblical view
Clovis was also at the debate.
Is this (and non-‘secular’) to mean some code for Christians Only?
I think so. “Biblical” isn’t a word one comes across every day when following government/politics, but it caught my eye because I had just read it the other day: Spokane Valley representative under scrutiny for leaked manifesto Posted: Oct 30, 2018 8:10 PM EDT
This is a good synopsis of “The Whitaker-Clovis journey” by Daniel Dale:
5:56 PM – 7 Nov 2018 The Whitaker-Clovis journey: both lost Iowa GOP [Senate] primary; Whitaker chaired Clovis’s Treasurer race; Clovis lost again; Clovis became co-chair of Trump’s campaign, unqualified USDA pick, Mueller witness; Whitaker criticized Mueller, got hired at DOJ, became attorney general.
From Daily Mail:
King on the court:
When people show you who they are, believe them.
Looks like a “Stanton Letter” to me.
An undated resignation letter is consistent with resignation under compulsion or duress.
But is this undated resignation letter even a legal document?
A “Stanton letter”, i.e. an undated, signed letter of resignation, is a standard precondition of getting a cabinet or sub-cabinet level job. You don’t give one to the President, you don’t get the job. It’s been that way for 150 years. See Edwin Stanton (who didn’t give one to Lincoln or Johnson) and the Johnson impeachment.
Totally enforceable, as a matter of law.
Further to Emptywheel’s Timeline, on October 30, 2017 the Congressional Research Service (CSR) published, “The Vacancies Act: A Legal Overview”. See CSR Report Number: R44997. In short, the President, among other ways, can appoint a “senior official” to serve temporarily in an advice-and-consent position but only for duties that are “non-delegable”. I do not know who requested and/or ordered this CSR Report last year but monitoring Mueller has already been delegated to Rosenstein.
See also, the Update for CSR Report 44997 published on July 20, 2018, and note the other important exceptions to the Vacancies Act at paragraph 3 including the potential impact of other federal statutes and regs.
Bryan Sean McKown, SF, CA