Pres­i­dent now says he doesn’t know ap­pointee

San Francisco Chronicle - - NATION - By Eric Tucker and Jonathan Lemire Eric Tucker and Jonathan Lemire are As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers.

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Trump dis­tanced him­self Fri­day from his new act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, Matthew Whi­taker, whose past busi­ness ties and com­ments on the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion and other top­ics have drawn scru­tiny.

Speak­ing to re­porters, Trump said: “I don’t know Matt Whi­taker. Matt Whi­taker worked for Jeff Ses­sions, and he was al­ways ex­tremely highly thought of, and he still is. But I didn’t know Matt Whi­taker.”

That con­tra­dicted re­marks Trump made on Fox News last month, when he called Whi­taker “a great guy” and said “I mean, I know Matt Whi­taker.

Trump el­e­vated Whi­taker to the post on Wed­nes­day af­ter forc­ing out Ses­sions, in­stalling a Repub­li­can Party loy­al­ist to over­see the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble ties be­tween Rus­sia and the pres­i­dent’s 2016 cam­paign.

Since then, Whi­taker, who had been Ses­sions’ chief of staff, has faced pres­sure from Democrats to re­cuse him­self from over­see­ing spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller, based on crit­i­cal com­ments he made about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­fore join­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment last year.

Those in­clude a com­men­tary in which he said Mueller would be stray­ing out­side his man­date if he in­ves­ti­gated Trump fam­ily fi­nances and a talk ra­dio in­ter­view in which he main­tained that there was no ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion be­tween the Krem­lin and the Trump cam­paign. There also have been re­ports about past com­ments ques­tion­ing the power and reach of the fed­eral ju­di­ciary, and about his ties to an in­ven­tion-pro­mo­tion com­pany that was ac­cused of mis­lead­ing in­vestors.

Le­gal schol­ars, mean­while, have de­bated the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of Whi­taker’s ap­point­ment, with some lawyers say­ing it is il­le­gal be­cause Whi­taker has not been con­firmed by the Se­nate.

De­spite Trump’s dis­tanc­ing him­self from Whi­taker, two Repub­li­cans close to the pres­i­dent said he had en­joyed Whi­taker’s TV ap­pear­ances and the two had struck a bond. Those TV ap­pear­ances in­cluded one on CNN in which Whi­taker sug­gested that the Mueller probe could be starved of re­sources.

Trump told as­so­ci­ates that he felt that Whi­taker would be “loyal” and would not have re­cused him­self from the Rus­sia probe as Ses­sions had done, ac­cord­ing to the Repub­li­cans, who were not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions.

In his com­ments Fri­day, Trump said he had not spo­ken with Whi­taker about Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Char­lie Neibergall / As­so­ci­ated Press 2014

Pres­i­dent Trump se­lected Matt Whi­taker to be act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral af­ter Trump forced At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions to re­sign. The choice has drawn in­tense scru­tiny.

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