Nov. 14 (UPI) -- The U.S. Justice Department dismissed claims Wednesday that acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker's appointment to succeed Jeff Sessions violated the Constitution.
Whitaker was appointed acting attorney general last week after Sessions was forced out. The department said it had sought legal advice about a succession plan before his departure.
"As all three branches of government have long recognized, the president may designate an acting official to perform the duties of a vacant principal office, including a Cabinet office, even when the acting official has not been confirmed by the Senate," the memo said.
Whitaker has openly criticized the FBI's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Democrats contend Whitaker should recuse himself from the Russia investigation, as Sessions did -- a move that was not supported by Trump.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh asked a federal judge Tuesday to block Whitaker from responding to an earlier lawsuit on the Affordable Care Act. Maryland officials argued Whitaker isn't the legitimate attorney general, and that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein should have been placed in the temporary post.
"Few positions are more critical than that of the U.S. Attorney General, an office that wields enormous power and authority over the lives of all Americans," Forsh said in a statement.
Many current and former government attorneys agree Whitaker's appointment is not illegal, but acknowledged it could be unwise and unprecedented.
Whitaker traveled to his native Iowa Wednesday, where he spoke at the Rural and Tribal Elder Justice Summit in Des Moines.
"It's good to be home. Des Moines is my home," he said. "This is where I played football, where I practiced law, where I prosecuted criminals as a United States Attorney, and it's where I'm raising my family."
His speech hit on several crimes he intends to focus on as attorney general, including scams that target the elderly.