Trump: ‘I don’t know ... Whi­taker’

Ques­tions sur­face over past re­marks by in­terim AG

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - NATION & WORLD - By Eric Tucker and Jonathan Lemire

WASH­ING­TON — Matthew Whi­taker’s fu­ture at the helm of the Jus­tice Depart­ment ap­peared un­cer­tain Fri­day as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­nied even know­ing the man he had named act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral just two days ear­lier.

The Se­nate’s top Repub­li­can pre­dicted a per­ma­nent re­place­ment could be named soon for Whi­taker, who is now over­see­ing the Trump-Rus­sia probe.

The com­ments from Trump and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell came as Whi­taker’s past busi­ness ties and re­marks on spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion and other top­ics were draw­ing scru­tiny from Democrats and ethics groups.

Speak­ing to re­porters Fri­day, Trump said, “I don’t know Matt Whi­taker.”

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

An­other Repub­li­can sen­a­tor, Su­san Collins of Maine, said she was con­cerned by some of Whi­taker’s past com­ments and called for leg­is­la­tion that would place lim­its on his abil­ity to fire spe­cial coun­sel Mueller. That would in­clude spec­i­fy­ing that only a Se­nate­con­firmed Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cial, which Whi­taker is not, could dis­miss Mueller.

Whi­taker, a Repub­li­can Party loy­al­ist and for­mer chief of staff to just-ousted At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, was el­e­vated Wed­nes­day af­ter his boss was forced from his job by Trump. The new po­si­tion handed him over­sight of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble ties be­tween Rus­sia and Trump’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Since Wed­nes­day, Whi­taker has faced pres­sure from Democrats to re­cuse him­self from over­see­ing Mueller based on crit­i­cal com­ments he made about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­fore join­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment last year.

There have also 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

Le­gal schol­ars are de­bat­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of his ap­point­ment, with some lawyers say­ing it is il­le­gal be­cause he has not been con­firmed by the Se­nate.

De­spite Trump’s cur­rent 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. McCon­nell said he ex­pects Whi­taker to be “a very in­terim” ap­pointee.

“The pres­i­dent has said re­peat­edly he’s not go­ing to dis­miss the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” McCon­nell told re­porters at Ken­tucky’s Capi­tol. “He’s said re­peat­edly it’s go­ing to be al­lowed to fin­ish. That also hap­pens to be my view.”

Trump has not said whom he will nom­i­nate to per­ma­nently re­place Ses­sions.

For­mer New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is said to be a can­di­date, along with La­bor Sec­re­tary Alex Acosta and Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Alex Azar, among oth­ers.

EVAN VUCCI/AP

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump talks with re­porters Fri­day on the South Lawn of the White House.

Whi­taker

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