Whitaker may be out of the DOJ, but he's not past the risk of being charged with perjury
Trump’s firing of James Comey isn’t the only thing that could earn him an obstruction charge. In fact, it’s not even close to the top of the list. The clearest example might be Trump’s stepping in to create a false narrative around the Trump Tower meeting by dictating a fake alibi to his son from Air Force One. But the list also includes multiple instances of suborning perjury by talking to witnesses before their testimony to Congress or the special counsel, and pressuring others involved in some aspect of the investigation. One item in particular that has caught the attention of the House Judiciary Committee is Trump’s communications with former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, the Judiciary Committee “believes it has evidence” that Trump asked Whitaker if U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman, who had recused himself from Southern District of New York investigations into Michael Cohen and other aspects of the case, might “regain control” of the investigation. The reason that Berman recused himself was simple enough: At the time of his recusal, Berman was a fresh interim appointment to the role, but more importantly, he is a former partner of Rudy Giuliani, a big donor to the Trump campaign, and was put into the U.S. attorney slot by Trump.
But since what started as a look into Cohen has expanded into a look at how Trump managed payoffs for at least two women, multiple LLCs used to hide both payoffs and contributions, and possibly a broader review of the Trump Organization, it’s become clear that the SDNY could be a larger threat to Trump continuing to reside in Washington than the special counsel’s office. Which makes Trump’s desire to have a pal in charge of that office both understandable and problematic.
At the moment, it’s not clear that Whitaker acted on Trump’s request either by speaking with Berman or by checking into whether it would be possible to shuffle those involved in the investigation. However, what the Judiciary Committee would like to know is whether Trump made the request, and how Whitaker responded if he did. In testimony last week, Whitaker claimed that “at no time” had Trump asked him to make “any promises or commitments” regarding any investigation. If, as the New York Times reported, Trump pressured Whitaker to put Berman back in charge of the SDNY investigation, then not only would Trump seem to be guilty of obstruction, but Whitaker would definitely be guilty of perjury.