Seriously? This guy?: Matthew Whitakers appointment as acting attorney general has FBI and DOJ officials in a daze

Matt Whitaker
Somodevilla/Getty Images

  • Current and former FBI and DOJ officials expressed shock and
    frustration at President Donald Trump’s appointment of Matthew
    Whitaker as acting attorney general.
  • “Seriously? This guy?” one current FBI agent said to INSIDER.
    “No words.”
  • A former DOJ official expressed a similar sentiment, saying
    department employees have been “in a daze” since
    Whitaker’s appointment “and have been for a while,” adding that
    local assistant US attorneys are also “pretty
  • Whitaker is seen as a staunch Trump loyalist and has
    publicly mused about gutting the Russia investigation. He is
    now overseeing the special counsel Robert Mueller.
  • DOJ veterans and constitutional law experts argue that
    Mueller could challenge Whitaker’s appointment on
    constitutional grounds if he overruled a decision by the
    special counsel.

President Donald Trump’s decision to oust Attorney General Jeff
Sessions this week and replace him with acting Attorney General
Matthew Whitaker sent shockwaves through Washington.

It also turned heads at the FBI and the Department of Justice
(DOJ), which Whitaker will oversee until Trump nominates and the
Senate confirms a permanent replacement.

One current FBI agent was blunt when asked about Whitaker’s

“Seriously? This guy?” the agent, who requested anonymity to
speak candidly, told INSIDER. “No words.”

While he was Sessions’ chief of staff, Whitaker reportedly met
with Trump in the Oval Office over a dozen times. And according
to The Washington Post, whenever Trump complained about the
ongoing Russia investigation Whitaker “often smiled knowingly and
nodded in assent.”

The Russia investigation, spearheaded by special counsel Robert
Mueller, has been a thorn in Trump’s side since shortly after he
took office. In addition to investigating Russia’s interference
in the 2016 election, Mueller is also looking into whether
members of the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the
race in his favor, as well as whether Trump sought to obstruct
justice after learning of the investigation’s existence last

The special counsel is said to be nearing the end stages of the
Russia probe — he has reportedly begun writing his final report —
and Whitaker’s appointment raises new questions about the fate of
the investigation.

“This decision is unsurprising,” another current FBI agent told
INSIDER. “POTUS has always wanted to replace Jeff Sessions with
someone loyal to him. He values personal loyalty above all else,
including rule of law. Another sad day for the country.”

Donald Trump
US President Donald


Once described as the West Wing’s “eyes and ears” in the DOJ,
Whitaker made the rounds on right-wing media over the last two
years claiming without evidence, that there was “no collusion”
between the Trump campaign and Russia.

He also said in a CNN op-ed last year that Mueller had
overstepped his mandate by digging into the Trump Organization’s

And late Thursday, audio footage resurfaced of Whitaker claiming the
“left is trying to sow this theory that essentially Russians
interfered with the US election, which has been proven false.
They did not have any impact in the election.”

The US intelligence community concluded last year that
Russia mounted an elaborate campaign to meddle in the 2016
election to elevate Trump to the presidency. The assessment did
not reach a conclusion about whether Russia’s meddling had an
impact on the results.

Read more:
Robert Mueller has reportedly
begun drafting his final report in the Russia probe

“Main Justice people are in a daze” since Whitaker’s
appointment “and have been for a while,” one former DOJ official
— who requested anonymity to freely discuss the mood within the
department, — told INSIDER. “Local [assistant US attorneys] are
keeping their heads down and just doing their work but are pretty
embarrassed, particularly in New York and Chicago.”

The Post reported that despite Whitaker’s controversial
remarks about Mueller and the Russia probe, the acting attorney
general has no plans to recuse himself, even if DOJ ethics
officials urge him to do so. Sources also told The Post that
Whitaker would likely oppose a request from Mueller to subpoena
the president if it came down to it.

Another former senior DOJ official, who worked closely with
Mueller when he was FBI director, told INSIDER that although the
special counsel is “as by-the-books as it gets, he likely won’t
take it lying down if he thinks the integrity of his
investigation has been compromised.”

Is Whitaker’s appointment constitutional?

robert mueller
DC – JANUARY 20: Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Robert Mueller testifies at a Senate Judiciary Hearing focusing
on the attempted bombing incident on Northwest Flight 253 January
20, 2009 in Washington, DC. The committee’s goal is to improve
the effectiveness of anti-terrorism tools and inter-agency
communication in an attempt to increase airline safety after the
attempted Christmas bombing of the flight.

Ann Heisenfelt/Getty Images

The myriad questions surrounding Whitaker’s independence prompted
DOJ veterans and constitutional law experts to begin laying the
groundwork to argue that Mueller could challenge Whitaker’s
appointment if he overruled a decision by Mueller.

Attorneys Neal Katyal and George Conway wrote in
a New York Times
 that because a “principal officer” of
the US must be confirmed by the Senate, “President Trump’s
installation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of
the United States after forcing the resignation of [former
Attorney General] Jeff Sessions is unconstitutional. It’s
illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries
to do, in that position is invalid.”

The argument has also gained steam in some conservative-leaning

Just to be clear, you can have an acting Attorney
General,” tweeted conservative commentator and Trump critic Erick
Erickson. “See e.g. Sally Yates. But you cannot have an acting AG
who had not been through a confirmation process for an AG
position. Yates was confirmed as a Deputy AG. Whitaker has

But there isn’t unanimous consensus among experts on the

Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas,
wrote in a Times op-ed that Trump’s
designation of Whitaker as acting attorney general is
constitutional, as long as it is temporary.

Ultimately, legal scholars say, the issue may end up being
decided by the Supreme Court.