Trump on new acting AG: ‘I don’t know Matt Whitaker’
President Donald Trump distanced himself Friday from his new acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, whose past business ties and comments on the Russia investigation and other topics have drawn scrutiny.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Trump said: “I don’t know Matt Whitaker. Matt Whitaker worked for Jeff Sessions, and he was always extremely highly thought of, and he still is. But I didn’t know Matt Whitaker. He worked for Attorney General (Jeff) Sessions.”
That contradicted remarks Trump made on Fox News last month, when he called Whitaker “a great guy” and said “I mean, I know Matt Whitaker.
Trump elevated Whitaker to the post on Wednesday after forcing out Sessions, installing a Republican Party loyalist to oversee the special counsel investigation into possible ties between Russia and the president’s 2016 campaign.
Since then, Whitaker, who had been Sessions’ chief of staff, has faced pressure from Democrats to recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller, based on critical comments he made about the investigation before joining the Justice Department last year.
Those include an op-ed in which he said Mueller would be straying outside his mandate if he investigated Trump family finances and a talk radio interview in which he maintained that there was no evidence of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. 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 misleading investors.
Legal scholars, meanwhile, have debated the constitutionality of Whitaker’s appointment, with some lawyers saying it is illegal because Whitaker has not been confirmed by the Senate.
In this April 24, 2014, photo, then-Iowa Republican senatorial candidate and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker watches before a live televised debate in Johnston, Iowa.