- Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker reportedly counseled top DOJ officials on how to counter President Donald Trump’s demands for investigations into his political adversaries, while at the same time advising the White House on how it could force the DOJ to investigate those same claims.
- In conversations with Trump, Whitaker is said to have cast himself as a staunch loyalist and promised he would “extract as much as he could from the Justice Department on the president’s behalf.”
- Whitaker is now in charge of the Russia investigation and the special counsel Robert Mueller, and Friday’s news is just the latest in a series of revelations that throw Whitaker’s independence from the White House into question.
In May, Matthew Whitaker, then the chief of staff to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, was reportedly counseling top DOJ officials on how to counter President Donald Trump’s fervent demands to investigate the baseless claim that the FBI “infiltrated or surveilled” his 2016 presidential campaign.
At the same time, Whitaker was advising the White House on how to force the DOJ to investigate those very same claims.
That’s according to a new report from Vox, which said Whitaker presented himself as a sympathetic ear when Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein agreed that giving in to Trump’s demands would amount to improperly politicizing the DOJ and the FBI.
On the other hand, Vox reported, Whitaker was in talks with the White House about how Trump could best pressure Sessions and Rosenstein to cave.
One person close to Whitaker told Vox that he was merely trying to calm the rising tensions between Trump and the nation’s top law-enforcement officials.
But two other sources told the outlet that when talking to the president, Whitaker cast himself as a staunch loyalist and promised he would “extract as much as he could from the Justice Department on the president’s behalf.” Whitaker also had several private phone calls with either Trump or the White House chief of staff John Kelly during this time.
This week, Trump ousted Sessions and announced that Whitaker would take over as acting attorney general until Trump nominates and the Senate confirms a permanent replacement.
The West Wing’s ‘eyes and ears’ in the DOJ
In his new role, Whitaker is now in charge of the Russia investigation and the special counsel Robert Mueller. Vox’s report is just the latest in a series of revelations that throw Whitaker’s independence into question.
Once described as the West Wing’s “eyes and ears” in the DOJ, Whitaker made the rounds on right-wing media over the last two years claiming without evidence, that there was “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia.
While he was Sessions’ chief of staff, Whitaker reportedly met with Trump in the Oval Office over a dozen times. And according to The Washington Post, whenever Trump complained about the ongoing Russia investigation Whitaker “often smiled knowingly and nodded in assent.”
He also said in a CNN op-ed last year that Mueller had overstepped his mandate by digging into the Trump Organisation’s finances.
And late Thursday, audio footage resurfaced of Whitaker claiming the “left is trying to sow this theory that essentially Russians interfered with the US election, which has been proven false. They did not have any impact in the election.”
The US intelligence community concluded last year that Russia mounted an elaborate campaign to meddle in the 2016 election to elevate Trump to the presidency. The assessment did not reach a conclusion about whether Russia’s meddling had an impact on the results.
In another recording reported on by Mother Jones, Whitaker said the president cannot obstruct justice and can kill any investigation he wants.
The Post reported that despite Whitaker’s controversial remarks about Mueller and the Russia probe, the acting attorney general has no plans to recuse himself, even if DOJ ethics officials urge him to do so. Sources also told The Post that Whitaker would likely oppose a request from Mueller to subpoena the president if it came down to it.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Trump said he does not know Whitaker.
But in an interview with Fox & Friends last month, Trump called Whitaker “a great guy,” adding, “I mean, I know Matt Whitaker.”