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Chicago: Whitaker ‘unlawfully occupying’ attorney general’s office

Matthew Whitaker

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker | AP file photo

Chicago jumped into the legal fray Monday against Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, alleging in a new complaint that Whitaker is “unlawfully occupying the office of the attorney general.”

The city also asked U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber to confirm that Whitaker “cannot lawfully exercise the duties of the office of the attorney general.”

In response, a Justice Department spokesperson argued that Trump’s designation of Whitaker “is lawful and comports with the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, the appointments clause of the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court precedent, past Department of Justice opinions, and actions of U.S. presidents, both Republican and Democrat.”

Chicago’s challenge to Whitaker emerged within an ongoing legal tussle over Chicago’s so-called sanctuary city policies — a battle City Hall and the Trump Administration seem to have relished. The city now alleges that Whitaker has no authority to impose any restrictions on grants — including those central to that fight.

Whitaker became acting attorney general last month, following the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Whitaker had served as Sessions’ chief of staff.

But the city argues that Whitaker’s old job “is not in the statutory line of succession,” and Whitaker was not appointed to the job “with the advice and consent of the Senate” as required by the U.S. Constitution.

Trump has since said he would nominate former Attorney General William Barr to once again hold the office.

Chicago’s is not the first legal threat to Whitaker. A group of Democratic senators and the state of Maryland are among others who have challenged him in court.

Nor was Monday’s filing unexpected. Just last month, City Council Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke championed an “order” authorizing Corporation Counsel Ed Siskel to either join Maryland’s lawsuit or file a separate legal action.

Burke pushed the order in yet another attempt to distance himself from Trump, a former law client. However, Burke has a new problem — federal agents visited his ward and City Hall offices in the last few weeks.

Contributing: Fran Spielman