President Donald Trump on Friday criticized George Conway, husband of presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway, for writing in a New York Times op-ed that it is “unconstitutional” to make Matt Whitaker the interim replacement for Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The president quickly drew criticism for appointing Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, as acting attorney general following the abrupt ouster of his predecessor. Democrats have cited comments Whitaker has made, including claims that special counsel Robert Mueller overstepped his bounds, to call for his recusal from supervising the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
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George Conway, who has an often-adversarial relationship with the White House, argued in his op-ed Thursday that because Whitaker reports directly to the president — making him a “principal officer” — he needs confirmation by the Senate to fill the role. Whitaker went through the confirmation process more than a decade ago when he served as a U.S. attorney, but he did not require Senate approval for his prior post at the Justice Department.
Talking to reporters Friday, Trump said the op-ed was a selfish move by the man he referred to as “Mr. Kellyanne Conway.”
“He’s just trying to get publicity for himself,” Trump said. Asked whether the op-ed was wrong, he replied: “Why don’t you ask Kellyanne that question, all right?”
“I really don’t know the guy,” Trump added.
George Conway has opposed rhetoric from the administration in the past, such as Trump’s claim that Mueller’s appointment was unconstitutional. His op-ed, penned with former acting solicitor Neal Katyal, doubled down on that claim.
“What makes an officer a principal officer is that he or she reports only to the president. No one else in government is that person’s boss. But Mr. Mueller reports to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. So, Mr. Mueller is what is known as an inferior officer, not a principal one, and his appointment without Senate approval was valid,” Conway and Katyal wrote.
“Whitaker’s installation makes a mockery of our Constitution and our founders’ ideals,” the authors wrote.
It is unclear who will replace Sessions on a permanent basis. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has emerged as one possibility, though Trump said Friday they have not discussed the job.