GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said on “America’s Newsroom” Wednesday that President Donald Trump is within his rights to appoint interim Attorney General Matt Whitaker, but stated there are valid arguments on both sides.
“The question at hand involves whether or not he can appropriately be appointed as interim attorney general. This is an issue in which there are reasonable arguments on both sides,” Lee said. (RELATED: Maryland Challenges Whitaker’s Appointment As Acting Attorney General)
Trump received former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ resignation on Nov. 7 and announced Whitaker as his temporary replacement. Whitaker was chief of staff for former Attorney General John Ashcroft in George W. Bush’s administration and served as a U.S. attorney in Iowa.
Lee said he supports Whitaker but is still waiting for the Department of Justice’s office of legal counsel to release a memorandum about the president’s authority on the subject.
Fox host Bill Hemmer asked if Lee thought Trump has the authority to appoint Whitaker. Lee’s answer was noncommittal.
“I think that’s the central question. Like I said, there are legitimate arguments on both sides. I think this could end up being a close legal question, which is why I want to see the memorandum.”
Hemmer highlighted Democratic fears about Whitaker interfering in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and Lee said the idea has been over-hyped.
“I don’t think that’s the legitimate question,” Lee replied. “Whether the president decides it’s time for a new course correction really is his call and his alone to make. That’s not our call. If they want to quibble about the extent of the president’s power to name an interim attorney general, that’s a different question.”
Lee also said he wouldn’t support a law to protect the Mueller probe because it interferes with Trump’s constitutional authority and undermines the office of the president.
“No. I voted against similar legislation earlier this year. I think that improperly interferes with the president’s constitutional authority as the head of the executive branch,” he said.
“I would not support that. And look, the fact that somebody has fears about what somebody might do in office, is not a good reason to suggest that that person should not hold that office. If they’ve got another legal argument, that’s fine, but that strikes me as a particularly bad argument,” he said.
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