Trump defends acting AG with misleading Mueller comparison

President Donald Trump on Sunday continued to defend Matt Whitaker, his controversial pick to lead the Justice Department, with a wildly misleading comparison to special counsel Robert Mueller.

The president attacked Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), referring to him as “little Adam Schitt,” for calling out the fact that Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general was not confirmed by the Senate ― an omission many legal experts have described as unconstitutional.

“So funny to see little Adam Schitt (D-CA) talking about the fact that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker was not approved by the Senate, but not mentioning the fact that Bob Mueller (who is highly conflicted) was not approved by the Senate!” Trump tweeted.

Schiff fired back on Twitter minutes later.

“Wow, Mr. President, that’s a good one,” tweeted Schiff, likely the next chairman of the House intelligence committee. “Was that like your answers to Mr. Mueller’s questions, or did you write this one yourself?”

Trump’s latest defense of Whitaker appears to rely on the false premise that Mueller needed Senate approval to be appointed to lead the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the president obstructed justice. But unlike attorneys general, special counsels do not require Senate confirmation, according to legal experts.

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U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence ranking member Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks with reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) speak with the media about the ongoing Russia investigation on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S. March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
House Intelligence Committee ranking Democrat Adam Schiff (D-CA) reacts to Committee Chairman Devin Nunes statements about surveillance of U.S. President Trump and his staff as well as his visit to the White House, during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks at a town hall meeting on healthcare reform in Alhambra, California, August 11, 2009. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok (UNITED STATES HEALTH POLITICS)
Ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) (R) speak during the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Russian actions during the 2016 election campaign on March 20, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel Ngan (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) appears on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday, March 19, 2017. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks during a news conference discussing Russian sanctions on Capitol Hill February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP / ZACH GIBSON (Photo credit should read ZACH GIBSON/AFP/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 27: Adam Schiff arrives at the 85th Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade on November 27, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Tara Ziemba/WireImage)
GLENDALE, CA - OCTOBER 07: Congressman Adam Schiff poses with guests at the HAAS Spine And Orthopaedics Official Opening Reception held at HAAS Spine & Orthopaedics Center on October 7, 2016 in Glendale, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 27: Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JULY 25: Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., walks through the crowd on the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on Monday, July 25, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Citing the appointments clause in Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, Alan B. Morrison, co-founder of Public Citizen Litigation Group, wrote on Friday that an attorney general must be nominated for that position and confirmed by the Senate if she or he is to carry out all the duties of that office. 

It’s possible Trump on Sunday was referring to Mueller’s past role as FBI director. But Mueller was easily approved by the Senate to lead the bureau in 2001.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether Trump’s “Schitt” typo was intentional or whether the president is aware Mueller did not need Senate approval to be appointed to the special counsel.

Earlier Sunday, Schiff called Whitaker’s appointment “unconstitutional” during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”

“He’s clearly a principal officer and the fact that he is a temporary principal officer doesn’t mean that is any less subject to Senate confirmation,” Schiff said. “Constitutionally, it has to be subject to confirmation.”

Whitaker’s appointment is “also in conflict with a more specific statute and that is: There is a succession statute for the Justice Department,” Schiff added. “It’s a flawed appointment but the biggest flaw, from my point of view, was that he was chosen for the purpose of interfering with the Mueller investigation.”

Trump announced Whitaker was replacing Jeff Sessions as attorney general on Nov. 7, prompting backlash from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Whitaker, a former federal prosecutor, has been a sharp critic of the Mueller investigation, though Trump has repeatedly denied knowing this prior to appointing him to oversee the probe.

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