Home / Politics / Ethics questions dog Matthew Whitaker, the nation's top law enforcement officer

Ethics questions dog Matthew Whitaker, the nation's top law enforcement officer

Iowa Republican senatorial candidate former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker looks on before a live televised debate at Iowa Public Television studios, Thursday, April 24, 2014, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The nation’s top law enforcement officer is currently surrounded by a series of ethics questions with no end in sight. The first issue stems from the Russia probe and whether he has consulted ethics officials within the Department of Justice about the investigation and, if so, what course of action he’s following as a result. At present, the special counsel’s investigation is still being managed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and his deputies, but presumably Whitaker could intervene at any time.

Whitaker has also been the target of two letters this week questioning his conflicts of interest based on prior positions he has held. Nearly 500 former Justice Department officials signed on to a letter noting that Whitaker wasn’t confirmed by the Senate and therefore “has not been fully vetted.”

We therefore call on the President to follow the Constitutional process by nominating an Attorney General, and replacing Mr. Whitaker as Acting Attorney General with the Senate-confirmed official who is next in the line of succession by operation of federal law. We likewise call on the Senate to insist that its Constitutional prerogative to provide advice and consent be respected.

In a separate letter, Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee expressed similar aggravation about the entanglements of both Whitaker, who led an organization that sued some Democratic lawmakers, and Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski, who formerly represented the Kremlin-linked financial institution Alfa Bank. Benczkowski pledged to recuse himself from the Russia probe during his July confirmation hearing. 

“Some of these are renewed requests because DOJ has either failed to respond or has provided incomplete responses to prior requests from Congress,” wrote the 11 senators in the opening of a six-page letter detailing their many concerns. “To maintain the public’s trust in an impartial DOJ, we urge you to provide prompt, complete, and public responses to the issues we raise.”

While the Senate is charged with vetting confirmable appointees, certainly House Democrats could take up this line of questioning next year if Justice Department officials continue to stonewall Congress on these inquiries.

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