Acting AG may be ‘very interim’
Trump says he doesn’t know him, after telling Fox News that he did
A permanent replacement could be named soon for Matthew Whitaker, the man President Donald Trump named acting attorney general and on Friday denied knowing.
WASHINGTON — Matthew Whitaker’s future at the helm of the Justice Department appeared uncertain at best 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 Trumprussia probe.
The comments from Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch Mcconnell came as Whitaker’s past business ties and remarks about 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.”
Mcconnell, meanwhile, said, “I think this will be a very interim AG.” Sen. Susan Collins, Rmaine, 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 chief of staff to justousted Attorney Gen eral 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 Whitaker’s past comments questioning the power and reach of the federal judiciary, and about his ties to an inventionpromotion firm accused of misleading investors.
The Wall Street Journal on Friday published an email revealing an FBI inquiry into the firm, World Patent Marketing Inc. The July 10, 2017, email was from an FBI victims’ specialist to someone who the newspaper said was an alleged victim of the company. A Justice Department spokeswoman told the Journal that Whitaker was “not aware of any fraudulent activity.”
Despite Trump’s current distancing of himself from Whitaker, two Republicans close to the president said that he had enjoyed Whitaker’s TV appearances and that the two had a bond. The appearances included one on CNN in which Whitaker suggested that the Mueller probe could be starved of resources.
On Friday, Trump said he had not spoken with Whitaker about Mueller’s investigation, which until now has been overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Of the scrutiny Whitaker is facing, Trump said, “It’s a shame that no matter who I put in they go after.”
Whitaker himself stayed out of the public debate Friday.
Trump hasn’t 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.
Trump told reporters he had not discussed the post with Christie.