President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Matthew Whitaker would be appointed acting U.S. attorney general after Jeff Sessions resigned from the position just a day after the midterm elections.
The announcement, which came in a tweet, comes after months of speculation that Sessions could be on his way out after recusing himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections. Sessions reportedly resigned at the request of the president. A permanent replacement will be named at a later point, a second tweet from the president said.
According to a September report from the New York Times, Whitaker was in line to replace U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein when Rosenstein was reportedly considering resigning.
Last November, Whitaker penned a CNN op-ed claiming that the Robert Mueller investigation was going too far by digging into the president’s financial records. “It does not take a lawyer or even a former federal prosecutor like myself to conclude that investigating Donald Trump’s finances or his family’s finances falls completely outside of the realm of his 2016 campaign and allegations that the campaign coordinated with the Russian government or anyone else,” he wrote. “That goes beyond the scope of the appointment of the special counsel.”
Beyond the Mueller investigation, Whitaker revealed himself to be a hardline conservative when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014 before eventually losing in a primary to Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), telling the Des Moines Register, “I’m 100 percent pro-life.” He added that he’d also support amending the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman. During a debate that year, Whitaker said according to Mic, “that judges must be ‘people of the faith’ with ‘a biblical view of justice.'”
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Whitaker’s views make him a natural fit to replace Sessions, who has attempted to expand religious refusals and rollback LGBTQ legal protections throughout his tenure at the Department of Justice. “Jeff Sessions was the worst attorney general in modern American history. He was an egregious violator of civil rights and civil liberties,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in a statement reacting to Sessions’ departure, going on to note that such dismissals “should not be based on political motives—and certainly should not be done to protect the president or his cronies from the law.”
“While the Constitution grants the president the authority to dismiss his cabinet members, we will be keeping a close watch on the future of the special counsel’s investigation and the impact of the appointment of a new attorney general. The Senate must demand that any nominee for attorney general must commit to not interfere in the special counsel investigation, and continue to have Robert Mueller operate under the special counsel regulation.”