Trump de­nies know­ing act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral

The Modesto Bee - - Nation & World - BY JOHN WAG­NER Wash­ing­ton Post

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Fri­day sought to play down spec­u­la­tion that he had ap­pointed Matthew Whi­taker act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral to cur­tail the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion, telling re­porters that he doesn’t know Whi­taker and hasn’t spo­ken to him about the probe.

“I didn’t speak to Matt Whi­taker about it,” Trump told re­porters as he left the White House en route to Paris. “I don’t know Matt Whi­taker.”

His com­ments came two days af­ter Trump ousted Jeff Ses­sions as at­tor­ney gen­eral and in­stalled Whi­taker, Ses­sions’ chief of staff and a former U.S. at­tor­ney in Iowa, as the top of­fi­cial at the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported this week that one of the rea­sons Trump liked Whi­taker was be­cause Whi­taker had briefed him on many oc­ca­sions be­cause the pres­i­dent pre­ferred not to talk to Ses­sions, whom he had of­ten dis­par­aged pub­licly.

Since step­ping into his new role, Whi­taker has faced ques­tions – prin­ci­pally from Democrats – about whether he should re­cuse him­self from over­see­ing the spe­cial coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence into the 2016 elec­tion, given that he had pre­vi­ously crit­i­cized the probe in opin­ion pieces and as a tele­vi­sion com­men­ta­tor.

Whi­taker’s ap­point­ment has also prompted ques­tions from Democrats about whether Trump brought him aboard to cur­tail or shut down the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which is ex­am­in­ing pos­si­ble co­or­di­na­tion be­tween Trump’s cam­paign and Rus­sia and po­ten­tial ob­struc­tion of the probe by Trump.

Asked by a re­porter whether he hired Whi­taker to rein in the probe, Trump said: “What a stupid ques­tion.”

While claim­ing not to know Whi­taker, Trump praised him as a “very strong per­son with a very strong per­son­al­ity.”

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