President Trump distanced himself Friday from acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker amid intensifying scrutiny of the controversial legal views and business entanglements of the president’s pick to run the Justice Department and assume control of the Russia investigation.
With the White House scrambling to manage public examination of Whitaker’s background and resistance to his leadership within the Justice Department, Trump sought to douse speculation that he had installed the partisan loyalist to curtail the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump insisted that he had not spoken with Whitaker about the investigation being led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — and the president upbraided a reporter when she asked whether he wanted Whitaker to rein in Mueller. “What a stupid question,” he said.
Defiant and testy as he departed the White House on Friday morning for a weekend visit to Paris, Trump claimed four separate times that he did not personally know Whitaker, who had been serving as chief of staff at the Justice Department.
“I don’t know Matt Whitaker,” Trump told reporters, adding that he knew him only by reputation.
That claim is false, according to the president’s past statements as well as the accounts of White House officials — one of whom laughed Friday at Trump’s suggestion that he did not know Whitaker.
Trump and Whitaker have met in the Oval Office several times, and Whitaker briefed Trump when the president preferred not to talk to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom he had disparaged publicly, according to White House officials. As Trump said last month on Fox News Channel, “I know Matt Whitaker.”
In addition, Trump was aware that Whitaker was a skeptic of the Mueller probe before appointing him, which factored into his decision to tap him over Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, according to two White House advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
Meanwhile, Whitaker’s public record is drawing fresh scrutiny. That includes comments during his unsuccessful 2014 campaign in Iowa for U.S. Senate that judges should have a “biblical view,” that he could not support judicial nominees who are “secular” and that he thinks federal courts are supposed to be the “inferior branch” of the government. Whitaker has criticized the Supreme Court’s landmark 1803 ruling in Marbury v. Madison, which serves as the foundation for judicial review of public policy.
Federal investigators last year also looked into whether Whitaker, as an advisory-board member of a Miami patent company accused of fraud by customers, played a role in trying to help the company silence critics by threatening legal action.
But it is Whitaker’s outspoken criticism of the Mueller investigation that has led Democrats to allege bias and spurred bipartisan efforts on Capitol Hill to pass legislation designed to protect the special counsel and prohibit Trump from firing him.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Friday that she is “concerned” about Whitaker’s comments about Mueller and the parameters of his investigation. She called for legislation that stipulates the special counsel could be fired only “for good cause and in writing” — and only by a Senate-confirmed Justice Department official, which Whitaker is not. Finsh @ Source: Trump distances himself from Whitaker amid scrutiny over past comments and business ties
Just on FYI Whitaker will go to jail if he does almost anything in this position.