WASHINGTON – More than 400 former Justice Department attorneys and staffers called for the removal of acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker in a statement circulated Tuesday, claiming that his appointment violated the Constitution because he lacked Senate confirmation required of other Cabinet officials.
The statement, organized by the government watchdog group Protect Democracy, was signed by the Justice alums, many of whom served both Democratic and Republican administrations.
“Because of our respect for our oaths of office and our personal experiences carrying out the department’s mission, we are disturbed by the president’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker to serve as Acting Attorney General,” the statement read. “Because of the profound responsibilities the position entails and the independence it requires, it can only be filled by someone who has been subjected to the strictest scrutiny under the process required by the Constitution.”
The opposition statement comes as a number of pending legal actions challenge the temporary replacement for fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Whitaker’s appointment also has drawn fire because of his past public statements, which criticized the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election led by Justice special counsel Robert Mueller.
As acting attorney general, Whitaker now oversees that investigation.
The Justice Department has defended Whitaker’s appointment, asserting in a written opinion that his senior executive status as Sessions’ former chief of staff “unquestionably” authorized him to serve despite his lack of Senate confirmation.
Mark Zanides, a former anti-terrorism chief in the San Francisco U.S. Attorney’s Office that Mueller once led, strongly opposed Whitaker, saying that he lacked both Senate approval and “the adequate experience necessary to serve as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.”
“This guy is not qualified – period,” said Zanides, who served in the San Francisco office from 1979 to 2006.
The statement went on to call on Trump to “follow the constitutional process by … replacing Mr. Whitaker as acting attorney general with the Senate-confirmed official who is next in line of succession by operation of federal law.”
That official, according to the pending legal challenges, would be Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker returned to his home state of Iowa Wednesday to speak at a conference on elder abuse and meet with prosecutors and state local law enforcers. (Nov. 14)