Act­ing U.S. AG not likely to last in job, McCon­nell says

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

Times Colonist - - Canada -

WASH­ING­TON — Matthew Whi­taker’s fu­ture at the helm of the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment ap­peared un­cer­tain Fri­day as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­nied know­ing the man he had named act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral 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 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 jus­tousted 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 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 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 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.”


Matthew Whi­taker was ap­pointed act­ing U.S. at­tor­ney gen­eral on Wed­nes­day.

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