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White House digging in on selection of Matt Whitaker as temporary replacement for Sessions

President Donald Trump and White House officials are digging in on the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as ac...

Posted: Nov 13, 2018 3:20 PM
Updated: Nov 13, 2018 3:20 PM

President Donald Trump and White House officials are digging in on the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, which has drawn waves of criticism from Democrats and some conservative legal scholars.

The President also has no intention of rushing to nominate a permanent replacement for ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, resisting the pressure to minimize Whitaker's time at the helm of the Justice Department in an acting capacity, two senior administration officials told CNN.

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Instead, Whitaker appears poised to remain in his position for weeks, if not months, to come.

"The President has told me to my face, two times, that there's no timetable for a nominee," one senior administration official said. "And there's no rush for that."

Key White House officials have remained privately indignant about the criticism that Whitaker has faced, with some likening it to the scrutiny White House physician Ronny Jackson drew after he was appointed to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. Several senior administration officials told CNN during the initial criticism of Whitaker's appointment that they were surprised by it and believed it could jeopardize his chances of remaining in the position.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders declined to comment on the state of play with Whitaker, writing in an email: "Nothing new on this front."

But a separate source told CNN that multiple administration officials had cautioned the White House, including White House chief of staff John Kelly, to take a close look at Whitaker's background weeks before he was formally appointed.

While Trump appears poised to keep Whitaker in his position, the President is known to frequently change his mind on personnel matters, leaving even his most senior aides sometimes uncertain about their positioning.

Trump distanced himself somewhat from Whitaker on Friday before leaving for Paris, proclaiming that he "didn't know Matt Whitaker." But he also praised him as "a very highly respected man" and said he believed "he's going to do a great job." He picked him for the position in part because he had grown to like him and trust that Whitaker's loyalties would lie with him, sources told CNN.

"He was very, very highly thought of, and still is highly thought of, but this only comes up because anybody that works for me, they do a number on them," Trump said.

Much of the criticism Whitaker drew stemmed from widely publicized comments he made about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, which the White House should have known about.

Whitaker's appointment quickly drew fire after his public criticism of the investigation resurfaced, particularly given that Trump passed over Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for the post, taking the Mueller investigation out of his hands and placing ultimate authority in Whitaker's.

In a 2017 CNN op-ed, Whitaker wrote that Mueller was "dangerously close to crossing" a red line following reports that Mueller was looking into Trump's finances and called on Rosenstein to "order Mueller to limit the scope of his investigation." In a July 2017 CNN appearance, Whitaker suggested Sessions' replacement could choke off funding to Mueller's investigation "so low that his investigation grinds almost to a halt."

Legal scholars, including several conservatives, also argued that Whitaker's appointment was unconstitutional because he is not a Senate-confirmed administration official. The White House maintains it is on firm legal ground with the Whitaker appointment.

Amid the criticism, Whitaker has been settling into his new role.

At the Justice Department, Whitaker spent the weekend on the phone with the top department heads and US attorneys across the country to offer reassurance that the priorities of the Department remain the same, according to a source familiar with the matter.

He also received calls of support, including from former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 248189

Reported Deaths: 5411
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto16841171
Hinds15890312
Harrison13037191
Rankin10439205
Jackson10128177
Lee8721135
Madison8071160
Jones6166108
Forrest5870117
Lauderdale5724177
Lowndes5238109
Lafayette486192
Lamar475363
Washington4734122
Bolivar3941106
Oktibbeha388179
Panola360475
Pontotoc358752
Monroe3487103
Warren337895
Union337457
Marshall336065
Neshoba3325150
Pearl River319492
Leflore2980104
Lincoln293385
Sunflower277569
Tate266659
Alcorn260651
Itawamba258858
Pike258176
Hancock253557
Prentiss242450
Scott241043
Yazoo237754
Copiah237449
Tippah236246
Simpson232367
Leake227864
Coahoma223154
Grenada215770
Covington208871
Marion206171
Adams201666
Winston198061
George197438
Wayne196130
Attala191658
Newton186542
Chickasaw181243
Tishomingo179659
Holmes167867
Jasper165134
Clay156732
Stone140218
Tallahatchie138234
Clarke136460
Calhoun133321
Smith118823
Yalobusha113834
Walthall111136
Noxubee109622
Greene108929
Montgomery108134
Carroll103721
Lawrence101217
Perry99131
Amite96425
Webster90624
Claiborne85125
Tunica84521
Jefferson Davis83825
Humphreys81524
Benton80323
Kemper75720
Quitman6758
Franklin65315
Choctaw59613
Wilkinson58125
Jefferson53019
Sharkey42417
Issaquena1586
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 417528

Reported Deaths: 6030
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson61313888
Mobile29768542
Madison26637185
Tuscaloosa20580268
Montgomery18696304
Shelby18310113
Baldwin16002179
Lee12261101
Morgan12093112
Etowah11604157
Calhoun10982200
Marshall10108107
Houston8474129
Cullman7960104
Limestone790174
Elmore7723101
DeKalb764697
St. Clair7460120
Lauderdale745183
Talladega6102108
Walker5852174
Jackson574441
Blount526483
Colbert525670
Autauga510355
Coffee434256
Dale391081
Franklin363445
Chilton333565
Covington326167
Russell323810
Escambia312442
Dallas300296
Clarke278233
Chambers277869
Tallapoosa2599107
Pike245829
Marion240549
Lawrence240447
Winston223835
Bibb213047
Geneva197431
Marengo197329
Pickens195231
Hale173742
Barbour171236
Butler167958
Fayette166026
Cherokee159630
Henry151119
Monroe144417
Randolph138535
Washington136526
Clay125246
Crenshaw118044
Lamar116619
Cleburne116023
Macon113335
Lowndes108735
Wilcox101221
Bullock98128
Perry95419
Conecuh92920
Sumter88726
Greene75323
Coosa60414
Choctaw51224
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