Did the Obama Administration Try Stacking the Deck Against Trump at the Justice Department?

Did the Obama Administration Try Stacking the Deck Against Trump at the Justice Department? Weekly StandardMark Hemingway, March 3, 2017

Amid Thursday’s over-hyped brouhaha about Jeff Sessions meeting with the Russian ambassador, a curious detail emerged. In Sessions’ recusal memo, it was explained who at the Justice Department would be handling any investigations into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia. “Consistent with the succession order for the Department of Justice, Acting Deputy Attorney General and U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Dana Boente shall act as and perform the functions of the Attorney General with respect to any matters from which I have recused myself to the extent they exist,” reads Sessions’ official statement on the matter.

Except that if the Obama administration had its way, Dana Boente wasn’t supposed to be the U.S. attorney to handle these matters in the event that Sessions recused himself. On February 10, USA Today reported the following:

Seven days before he left office, President Obama changed the order of succession without explanation to remove Boente from the list. Obama’s order had listed U.S. attorneys in the District of Columbia, the Northern District of Illinois and the Central District of California.

Why would the Obama administration make this eleventh-hour change to the line of succession at the Justice Department? “At the time, I was told it was done in consultation with Trump transition,” Gregory Korte, the USA Today reporter who wrote the story quoted above, told me Thursday. “Looking back, that’s clearly not the case.”

In fact, it seems like it was quite obviously not the case. The man Obama placed at the head of the line of succession is D.C.’s U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips, who is quite cozy with President Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder. He is a former senior adviser to Holder, and he stayed on to work under Obama’s next AG Loretta Lynch before Obama appointed Phillips D.C.’s U.S. attorney in 2015. But Phillips goes way back with Holder—Holder first hired Philips in the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1994. It’s also safe to say that the AG offices in the Northern District of Illinois and the Central District of California are not hotbeds of Trump supporters.

It looks like the Obama administration was hoping that the reins of power here would unknowingly default to someone unfriendly to Trump in the event Sessions was forced to recuse himself—or even resign, as so many Democrats breathlessly demanded Thursday. (It’s worth noting that Sessions’s claims that he was already considering recusing himself from the Russia investigations because of his role on the campaign seem pretty sincere. Reuters reported last Sunday that the White House was considering the need for Sessions’s recusal long before the teacup tempest about Sessions failing to disclose minor encounters with the Russian ambassador.)

This might seem far-fetched, except to say that the leak-coordinated campaign by former Obama officials to undermine Trump seems to be very real, per the reporting of Lee Smith. Indeed, the New York Times reported Thursday, “In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election — and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians — across the government.”

 

Explore posts in the same categories: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Department of Justice, Obama administration and Trump, Obama and transition, Obama and Trump, Sessions and Russia, Trump administration, Trump agenda, Trump and Russia, Trump transition

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