It looked likely last month that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who has helped safeguard Robert Mueller’s grand jury investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, from presidential obstruction, could soon be out the door. Now that Trump has apparently cooled down, Iowa attorney Matt Whitaker, whose name was floated as Rosenstein’s likely replacement, a report this week in the Washington Post revealed that the president talked to Whitaker about the possibility of replacing Jeff Sessions as attorney general.
Whitaker currently serves as chief of staff to Sessions, who was an early and strong ally of candidate Trump but has since drawn his ire for recusing himself in the Russia investigation.
According to the Post, Trump spoke to Whitaker about the possibility of replacing Sessions around the same time that the White House was preparing for Whitaker to replace Rosenstein as acting deputy attorney general in the case he resigned or was axed by Trump after a report in the New York Times about claims that Rosenstein discussed wearing a wire to secretly record Trump and even floated the idea of removing him from office via the 25th Amendment (Rosenstein has denied the report, and others have argued that he his comments were tongue-in-cheek).
“The conversation between Trump and Matthew G. Whitaker was somewhat nebulous, the people said,” the Post reported Wednesday. “It was not clear, for example, whether Whitaker would take over on an interim basis or be nominated in a more permanent capacity, or how definitive the president’s intentions were.”
The report added that Trump plans to keep both Sessions and Rosenstein on through the midterm elections next month, so as not to harm Republicans at the polls. But after that, “the Justice Department expects the two men at the top will be replaced in short order,” according to the Post, which added that Whitaker’s potential role in those plans remains unclear.
Whitaker’s name has also been floated as a possible replacement for outgoing White House legal counsel Don McGahn, who has angered Trump for cooperating with Mueller’s probe.
Whitaker is a former University of Iowa football player who served as US attorney for the Southern District of Iowa from 2004 to 2009 and later launched an unsuccessful bid for the Senate seat won by Joni Ernst.