“By forcing out Attorney General Jeff Sessions and appointing Mr. Sessions’s chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, as acting attorney general to take over the Justice Department — and, not incidentally, the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller — President Trump has set off a storm of legal questions.
Does the appointment of Mr. Whitaker comport with the Appointments Clause of the Constitution or the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998? Doesn’t the law give control of the department to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who appointed Mr. Mueller and oversaw the investigation because Mr. Sessions had recused himself?
To add to the academic discussion, the Justice Department’s own Office of Legal Counsel, which weighs in on major legal questions, gave its imprimatur to Mr. Trump’s decision on Wednesday. Now the state of Maryland and at least one criminal defendant are challenging the legality of Mr. Whitaker’s appointment in hopes that a federal judge will declare it invalid.
But all of this debate, hairsplitting and litigation distracts from a more persistent question: Is it O.K. for a president to shut down an investigation of himself? To answer that question yes is to take the position that not only this president, but any president in the future, is free to take the law into his own hands.”