- A bombshell New York Times report said that President Donald Trump pressured Matthew Whitaker, then the acting attorney general, to exert control over a federal investigation into Trump’s role in several hush-money payments to women during the 2016 US election.
- There is no evidence that Whitaker acted on Trump’s request, but The Times reported that Whitaker later told colleagues the SDNY was in need of “adult supervision.”
- One aide on the House Judiciary Committee told INSIDER the alleged conversation “raises serious questions” about Whitaker’s “candor” when he testified to Congress that the White House never asked for – and he did not provide – any “promises or commitments” about any ongoing investigations.
- Another aide confirmed that House Democrats are investigating whether Whitaker perjured himself.
Former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker was unequivocal when he told lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee that he did not discuss any investigations with President Donald Trump.
“At no time has the White House asked for, nor have I provided, any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel [Robert Mueller’s] investigation or any other investigation,” Whitaker said while testifying about his oversight of the Justice Department earlier this month.
But a bombshell report from The New York Times published on Tuesday raises questions about whether Whitaker was entirely forthcoming when he denied having any conversations with the president about ongoing investigations into him.
According to The Times, as federal prosecutors in New York investigated Trump’s role in several hush-money payments during the 2016 campaign to women who say they had affairs with him, Trump called Whitaker in an effort to exert control over the probe.
During the call, Trump reportedly asked Whitaker whether Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, could be put in charge of the rapidly expanding investigation. Berman is an ally of Trump and has recused himself from the investigation because of his ties to the president.
It’s unclear what Whitaker did after the phone call, but there is no indication that he took any concrete steps to exert control over the investigation. But The Times reported that he did tell associates at the Justice Department that the Manhattan US attorney’s office needed “adult supervision.”
Whitaker’s alleged conversation ‘raises serious questions’ about whether he misled Congress
Whitaker did not mention anything about the reported phone call in his congressional testimony. One committee aide told INSIDER that The Times’ report “raises serious questions” about Whitaker’s “candor” before lawmakers. Another aide confirmed that House Democrats are investigating whether Whitaker committed perjury, as The Times reported.
Whitaker took over as acting attorney general after Trump fired Jeff Sessions last year. His appointment invited sharp scrutiny from Democrats, who said they were concerned Trump tapped Whitaker in order to rein in Mueller. Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump sought to obstruct justice when he fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017.
Before taking over as acting attorney general, Whitaker made several public comments questioning the scope and validity of Mueller’s appointment. Among other things, he said Mueller had strayed outside of his original mandate, and he publicly mused about financially gutting the investigation to force it to grind to a halt.
But when he testified before Congress, Whitaker appeared to walk back his previous remarks and said Mueller’s office is acting within the scope of the appointment order that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein created in May 2017.
“The special counsel’s investigation is proceeding consistent with the regulations that outline why the appointment happened, consistent with Mr. Rosenstein’s appointment,” Whitaker said in response to questioning from Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren.
The comment stood in stark contrast to both Whitaker’s previous statements, as well as claims from Trump and his legal team that Mueller’s office is on a fishing expedition and a politically motivated “witch hunt” against the president and his associates.
Read more: William Barr confirmed as attorney general
Attorney General William Barr is reportedly already planning how to rein in Mueller
Last week, the Senate confirmed William Barr, a former White House adviser and attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, to serve as Trump’s attorney general. Barr, too, drew scrutiny over a memo he sent to the White House, Justice Department, and lawyers representing other defendants in the Russia probe last year.
In the memo, Barr said Mueller’s obstruction-of-justice investigation into Trump is “legally unsupportable” and should not be sanctioned by the Justice Department. When lawmakers asked Barr whether he would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia probe in light of the memo he sent last year, Barr said he would seek the advice of Justice Department ethics officials but did not commit to following their advice.
Asked whether he would commit to making any report Mueller produces available to Congress and the public, Barr said Mueller’s report would not be made public. Instead, he told lawmakers, the public would see his own summary of the special counsel’s findings.
According to CNN, Barr has already begun planning how to take control of Mueller’s probe. He’s reportedly focused on two decisions in particular: how much information to report to Congress about Mueller’s findings, and who the deputy attorney general will be (Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who is overseeing Mueller, plans to step down after the Russia probe is completed).