- Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pushed out of his position by President Donald Trump this week, and his chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, was appointed as acting AG.
- Whitaker, a former US Attorney from Iowa, has been involved in a number of controversies throughout his career as a conservative commentator and failed US Senate candidate.
- He’s argued that all federal judges should be Christians, that the Mueller probe is a “witch hunt,” and was on the board of a fraudulent marketing firm that was shut down by the FTC and is now being investigated by the FBI.
The Department of Justice has been mired in controversy this week, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pushed out of his position by President Donald Trump, and his chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, appointed as acting AG.
Not only do multiple legal and constitutional scholars argue that Whitaker’s appointment to acting AG is unconstitutional because he was not confirmed to his current position by the US Senate, but commentators and state attorneys general have accused him of being unfit for the position.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that Whitaker did not plan to recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference and possible crimes on the part of the 2016 Trump campaign-and would block Mueller from subpoenaing the President.
Whitaker has frequently undermined the legitimacy and validity of the Mueller probe in the media, echoing Trump’s own talking points that the probe is a “witch hunt” investigating non-existent impropriety by the Trump campaign.
Whitaker served was appointed US Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa at the age of 39, and served in that role from 2004 to 2009.
After his tenure as a US Attorney, Whitaker became a regular conservative commentator on political and legal issues for outlets like USA Today and the Washington Examiner. In 2014, he unsuccessfully in Iowa’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate. He was appointed as Sessions’ chief of staff in September 2017.
Whitaker was not a widely-known figure before last week, but since his appointment as acting AG, some of his more controversial actions and statements have since resurfaced. He once said he believed federal judges should be Christians, has repeatedly disparaged the Mueller probe, and served on the board of a marketing firm that scammed its customers out of $US26 million and was shut down by the FTC.
Here’s a full timeline of Whitaker’s controversial political past:
In 2014, Whitaker said one of the worst Supreme Court decisions was Marbury v. Madison, the landmark 1803 case that established the principle of judicial review, allowing the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of legislation.
“This is lunacy. For any lawyer – certainly for one now at the helm of the Justice Department – to disagree with Marbury is like a physicist denouncing the laws of gravity,” wrote Washington Post editorial page editor Ruth Marcus of Whitaker’s comments.
“Decided in 1803, at the dawn of the new republic,Marbury v. Madison is the foundational case of American constitutional law,” Marcus continued.
“It represents Chief Justice John Marshall’s declaration that the Supreme Court possesses the ultimate power to interpret the Constitution and determine the legitimacy of acts of Congress.”
While running in Iowa’s 2014 Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Whitaker said he believed it was “very important” for federal judges to be “people of faith” and have a “Biblical worldview.”
“What I know is that as long as they have that worldview, that they will be a good judge. And if they have a secular worldview, that ‘this is all we have here on Earth’, then I’m going to be very concerned about how they judge.”
In a statement to Business Insider, the Freedom From Religion Foundation accused Whitaker of being an “extreme Christian nationalist.”
“What would a biblical view of justice look like? Capital punishment for such non-crimes as worshipping gods other than the Judeo-Christian god, blasphemy, Sabbath-breaking, disobeying a parent, a woman who isn’t a virgin on her wedding night, or witchcraft,” they added.
“Whitaker has joked that he prefers New Testament justice to ‘Levitical’ justice, but has apparently forgotten that Jesus supposedly said, in the Beatitudes no less, that he came to fulfil the law of the prophets, not to abolish it,” they added.
In a 2013 candidate forum, Whitaker said states could overrule federal law such as Obamacare, “if they had the political courage.”
“As a principle, it has been turned down by the courts and our federal government has not recognised it,” Whitaker said.
“Now we need to remember that the states set up the federal government and not vice versa. And so the question is, do we have the political courage in the state of Iowa or some other state to nullify Obamacare and pay the consequences for that?”
Whitaker has publicly disparaged the validity of the Mueller probe on multiple occasions.
“There was no collusion with the Republicans and the Trump campaign…There is not a single piece of evidence that demonstrates that the Trump campaign had any illegal or even improper relationships with Russians,” he said in a 2017 talk show interview.
So far, the Mueller probe has indicted 32 people and struck plea agreements with four former Trump campaign advisors who pleaded guilty to lying about their contacts with Russians.
He also claimed in 2017 that the president couldn’t be guilty of obstruction of justice: “There is no case for obstruction of justice because the president has all the power of the executive and delegates that to people like the FBI director and the attorney general,” he said.
In that same interview, Whitaker said that Trump should have been more forceful in encouraging former FBI director James Comey to shut down his investigation into former Trump campaign advisor Michael Flynn, who ended up pleading guilty and became a cooperating witness in the Mueller probe.
“This is power that is completely vested in the president…If he wanted to he could have told Jim [Comey] to stop investigating former [Defence Intelligence Agency] director Flynn. And he didn’t…I’m sure he made his preference known. Quite frankly, he’s president of the United States. He can do that,” Whitaker said.
In a 2017 CNN op-ed titled “Mueller’s investigation has gone too far,” Whitaker argued that Mueller had “crossed a red line” in examining Trump and his family’s finances.
“If he were to continue to investigate the financial relationships without a broadened scope in his appointment, then this would raise serious concerns that the special counsel’s investigation was a mere witch hunt,” Whitaker wrote, echoing one of Trump’s preferred terms for the investigation.
And in a 2017 CNN interview, he described how Trump could find a loophole to effectively terminate the Mueller probe by defunding it.
“I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment,” Whitaker said. “And that attorney general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.”
Whitaker was a paid advisory board member for a company called World Patent Marketing, which charged fees to secure patents and promote customers’ innovations, like this hot tub.
But the Federal Trade Commission found that WPM was, in reality, scamming its customers out of $US26 million while not providing legitimate patent and marketing services, and shut it down in 2017.
“It’s really upsetting to know that guy will be attorney general,” said Ryan Masti, who claims he was scammed out of $US77,000 by WPM. “It’s so offensive. It’s like a stab in the back.”
The Wall Street Journal reported on Nov. 9 that the FBI’s Miami Bureau was opening a criminal investigation into WPM.
While on the board of WPM, Whitaker used his past post as a US Attorney to threaten unhappy WPM customers against taking action against the company with “serious civil and criminal consequences,” according to court documents.
Since the FBI is a part of the DOJ, Whitaker would have to recuse himself from any part of the investigation into WPM, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Source: Wall Street Journal
And on Nov. 9, Vox reported that Whitaker was advising the White House and the DOJ simultaneously on how they could investigative Trump’s baseless claims that the FBI “spied” on his 2016 campaign.
Whitaker has been described as the White House’s “eyes and ears” in the Department of Justice, reportedly causing many DOJ to view him with suspicion as a staunch Trump loyalist.