‘I don’t know Matt Whi­taker,’ Trump re­peats

Tampa Bay Times - - Nation & World -

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Donald Trump said Fri­day that he had not yet spo­ken to the new act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, Matthew Whi­taker, about the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and he dis­tanced him­self from Whi­taker — long con­sid­ered one of the pres­i­dent’s loy­al­ists — by sug­gest­ing that he did not know him.

Whi­taker, who now over­sees the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, has vis­ited the Oval Of­fice sev­eral times and is said to have an easy chem­istry with the pres­i­dent, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the re­la­tion­ship. And the pres­i­dent has re­garded Whi­taker as his eyes and ears at the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

“I don’t know Matt Whi­taker,” Trump told re­porters as he left Wash­ing­ton for a week­end trip to Paris. Trump em­pha­sized that while he did not know Whi­taker, he knew his rep­u­ta­tion well. Whi­taker “is a very re­spected man,” Trump said.

Whi­taker has pub­licly sided with Trump in say­ing that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence and any con­nec­tion to the Trump cam­paign wcial coun­sel, is an over­reach. That has raised ques­tions about what changes Whi­taker could make to Mueller’s man­date, par­tic­u­larly changes that might ben­e­fit Trump.

The U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the District of Columbia Cir­cuit also wants to know what im­pact Whi­taker will have on the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion. On Fri­day, the court re­quested a re­port from both the Jus­tice Depart­ment and the Mueller team “ad­dress­ing what, if any, ef­fect” Whi­taker’s ap­point­ment has on the case, which was pre­vi­ously be­ing over­seen by Rod Rosen­stein, the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Trump fired At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions on Wed­nes­day af­ter months of pub­licly shaming him for re­cus­ing him­self from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Whi­taker had been serv­ing as Ses­sions’ chief of staff.

In that role, Whi­taker helped to sta­bi­lize the tense re­la­tion­ship be­tween Trump and Ses­sions, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the dynamic.

Whi­taker at­tended meet­ings at the White House; in some cases, the pres­i­dent and the at­tor­ney gen­eral were both there, of­fi­cials who were also present said.

In Au­gust, when the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Trump and Ses­sions hit a low point and the two men ex­changed a rare pub­lic tit-for-tat, Whi­taker at­tended a meet­ing on prison re­form with both later that day.

Yet, on Fri­day morn­ing, Trump said four times that he did not know Whi­taker.

Democrats have called for Whi­taker to re­cuse him­self from the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion over what they see as con­flicts of in­ter­est, in­clud­ing his pub­lic crit­i­cism of the in­quiry and his ties to a wit­ness in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The wit­ness, Sam Clo­vis, is a for­mer Trump cam­paign aide and a for­mer can­di­date for Iowa state trea­surer. In 2014, Whi­taker was the chair­man of Clo­vis’ un­suc­cess­ful cam­paign.

Whi­taker also served on the ad­vi­sory board of a Florida com­pany that a fed­eral judge shut down last year and fined nearly $26 mil­lion. The com­pany, World Patent Mar­ket­ing, “bilked thou­sands of con­sumers out of mil­lions of dol­lars” by promis­ing in­ven­tors lu­cra­tive patent agree­ments, ac­cord­ing to a com­plaint filed in Florida by the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion.

Court doc­u­ments show that when frus­trated con­sumers tried to get their money back, com­pany founder Scott Cooper used Whi­taker to threaten them as a for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor. Cooper’s com­pany paid Whi­taker nearly $10,000 be­fore it closed.

Seat­tlepi.com via As­so­ci­ated Press

Protesters march Thurs­day in Seat­tle for spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller and against the new act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Act­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Matthew Whi­taker

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