The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Matthew Whitaker’s fawning defense of President Trump

“Above the Law” presents a parade of villains — chief among them the rock-ribbed Republican Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who investigated Russian election interference. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
correction

This review quotes a sentence from Matthew Whitaker’s book, “Above the Law,” that contains incorrect information. In his book, Whitaker incorrectly said James Clapper was “at the National Security Agency.” Clapper was Director of National Intelligence.

There are good books and bad books. Then there are books so bad that they should be tried, convicted and sentenced to life without parole in literary prison, never again to see the light of day. Gentle reader, this is such a book.

Matthew Whitaker — remember him? — was chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions for 13 months, serving through some ennobling moments in the annals of justice, like the imposition of a travel ban based on religion and the soul-stirring speech in which Sessions justified separating children from their border-crossing families because the policy was ordained by God. When President Trump keelhauled Sessions, a man he now derides as mentally unfit for the office, Whitaker stepped in as the acting attorney general for 14 weeks.

Above the Law” reads like it was written faster than that fleeting tenure. It’s a thin excuse for a book, 128 pages of text brazenly padded with appendixes of government news releases, Whitaker’s speeches and, somewhat shamelessly, the Constitution. The author avers that judges must adhere to the Bible and that states can nullify federal laws, views not easily reconciled with bedrock constitutional principles.

But “Above the Law” is not a legal treatise. Nor is it a run-of-the-mill Beltway memoir. It’s an angry argument that defeats itself as it tries to score points. Whitaker writes in the way Trump tweets, mixing a toxic cocktail of macho MAGA swagger, the angry cant of the Christian right and the whining of a petulant child. He sounds the dire warning that a nefarious “deep state” is working night and day to subvert Donald J. Trump. Don’t buy that bogus notion. Definitely don’t buy this book.

There’s been a lot of loose (and lucrative) talk of late about the “deep state,” that sinister conclave of unelected government officials running the country in secret, corrupting the body politic, doing the dirty work of Barack Obama and his minions, and seeking to overturn the 2016 election and undermine America itself. It’s an immense conspiracy, run by “a vicious group of people,” as Trump said in an interview last month. This belief is a grand delusion, part of the paranoid strain of American politics defined in 1964 by the historian Richard Hofstadter by its “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.”

You’ll get all that and more from “Above the Law.” It presents a parade of villains — chief among them the rock-ribbed Republican Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian election interference, and James Comey, the onetime FBI director who took part in what Whitaker calls “the extraordinary mutiny” enveloping Trump’s Justice Department. He charges that Mueller and his team “maintained a presumption, shared by the Deep State and the Resistance, that Trump had to be guilty of something simply because they hated him and thought he shouldn’t be President.” He asserts that Comey single-handedly kick-started the Russia investigation to subvert Trump: “I’m sure the President could sense Comey’s treachery from their first meeting.”

This is arrant nonsense. Trump set off the Mueller investigation by his reckless decision to fire Comey, whose FBI was investigating the Russian role in the 2016 election. Whitaker must know this, but he wants the reader to think Trump has been persecuted by nearly everyone who has run the FBI in the 21st century — directors, deputy directors and their underlings. It’s a claim whose credence depends on faith in a president for whom there are no facts and there is no truth.

Whitaker also makes the incendiary assertion — couched in the weasel word “reportedly” — that “the U.S. intelligence community, led by John Brennan at the CIA and James Clapper at the National Security Agency, was also looking for crimes in Donald Trump’s past.” This is at best willful ignorance, at worst a baseless smear. American intelligence does not do criminal investigations, other than assisting the FBI in cases of suspected espionage. If Whitaker doesn’t know this, he was the wrong man for the job.

He bows to no man in his respect for his commander in chief, who in his eyes surpasses Dwight D. Eisenhower, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington in wisdom, judgment and temperament: “Watching President Trump lead, and lead effectively, while under withering attacks from the media, Democrats in Congress, former government officials, and even members of his own Justice Department, was like nothing else I’ve witnessed or even read about in American history.” This suggests that the author is neither a student of the American presidency nor an astute judge of character. He defends Trump in the context of his impeachment by arguing (his italics): “Abuse of power is not a crime.” It is, however, a violation of the oath of office and an impeachable offense.

It’s almost cruel to quote Whitaker’s conclusions: “President Trump has brought back America’s confidence on the world stage,” he writes. “More threatening to Donald Trump’s opponents than his shocking electability is his efficacy. President Trump has done a lot since the 2016 election to make America a safer, freer, and more prosperous country.” I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that those words are untrue.

The last time I checked, “Above the Law” was rated No. 1 in law enforcement books on Amazon. It will descend. Someday someone will write a great book about Trump’s Justice Department. For the moment, this cheap-jack jeremiad will stand as a testament to a low, dishonest time in which the rule of law teetered on a terrible precipice. It deserves to die in obscurity.

The Inside Story of How the Justice Department Tried to Subvert President Trump

By Matthew Whitaker

Regnery. 262 pp. $28.99

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