Trump on act­ing AG: ‘I don’t know’ him

The Maui News - - TODAY’S PEOPLE - By ERIC TUCKER and JONATHAN LEMIRE The As­so­ci­ated Press

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 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.”

McCon­nell, mean­while, said, “I think this will be a very in­terim AG.” 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 Se­nate-con­firmed Jus­tice De­part­ment of­fi­cial — which Whi­taker is not — could dis­miss Mueller.

Whi­taker, a Repub­li­can Party loy­al­ist and 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.

Those in­cluded an op-ed ar­ti­cle in which he said Mueller would be stray­ing out­side his man­date if he in­ves­ti­gated Trump fam­ily fi­nances and a ra­dio in­ter­view in which he main­tained there was no ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion be­tween the Krem­lin and the Trump cam­paign. He also tweeted an ex­pros­e­cu­tor’s opin­ion piece that de­scribed a “Mueller lynch mob,” which he said was “worth a read.”

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 in­ven­tion-pro­mo­tion com­pany that was ac­cused of mis­lead­ing in­vestors. The Wall Street Jour­nal on Fri­day pub­lished an email re­veal­ing an FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the com­pany, 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.”

Whi­taker him­self stayed out of the pub­lic de­bate Fri­day. He sent a de­part­ment-wide note af­ter his ap­point­ment in which he said, “As we move for­ward, I am com­mit­ted to lead­ing a fair De­part­ment with the high­est eth­i­cal stan­dards, that up­holds the rule of law, and seeks jus­tice for all Amer­i­cans.”

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.

Trump told as­so­ci­ates that he felt 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 and com­mented only on con­di­tion of anonymity.

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.

Rosen­stein told re­porters Fri­day that based on his ex­pe­ri­ences with Whi­taker, “I think he’s a su­perb choice for at­tor­ney gen­eral.”

Of the scru­tiny Whi­taker is fac­ing, Trump said, “It’s a shame that no mat­ter who I put in they go af­ter.”

“He was very, very highly thought of, and still is highly thought of, but this only comes up be­cause any­body that works for me, they do a num­ber on them,” Trump said.

In Ken­tucky, mean­while, McCon­nell said he ex­pects Trump to nom­i­nate a new per­ma­nent at­tor­ney gen­eral “pretty quickly.” 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.

Trump told re­porters he has not dis­cussed the post with Christie, who he said was “a friend of mine” and “a good man.”

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