‘I don’t know Matt Whitaker,’ Trump repeats
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday that he had not yet spoken to the new acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, about the special counsel investigation, and he distanced himself from Whitaker — long considered one of the president’s loyalists — by suggesting that he did not know him.
Whitaker, who now oversees the investigation, has visited the Oval Office several times and is said to have an easy chemistry with the president, according to people familiar with the relationship. And the president has regarded Whitaker as his eyes and ears at the Justice Department.
“I don’t know Matt Whitaker,” Trump told reporters as he left Washington for a weekend trip to Paris. Trump emphasized that while he did not know Whitaker, he knew his reputation well. Whitaker “is a very respected man,” Trump said.
Whitaker has publicly sided with Trump in saying that the investigation into Russian election interference and any connection to the Trump campaign wcial counsel, is an overreach. That has raised questions about what changes Whitaker could make to Mueller’s mandate, particularly changes that might benefit Trump.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit also wants to know what impact Whitaker will have on the special counsel’s investigation. On Friday, the court requested a report from both the Justice Department and the Mueller team “addressing what, if any, effect” Whitaker’s appointment has on the case, which was previously being overseen by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.
Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday after months of publicly shaming him for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Whitaker had been serving as Sessions’ chief of staff.
In that role, Whitaker helped to stabilize the tense relationship between Trump and Sessions, according to officials familiar with the dynamic.
Whitaker attended meetings at the White House; in some cases, the president and the attorney general were both there, officials who were also present said.
In August, when the relationship between Trump and Sessions hit a low point and the two men exchanged a rare public tit-for-tat, Whitaker attended a meeting on prison reform with both later that day.
Yet, on Friday morning, Trump said four times that he did not know Whitaker.
Democrats have called for Whitaker to recuse himself from the special counsel investigation over what they see as conflicts of interest, including his public criticism of the inquiry and his ties to a witness in the investigation. The witness, Sam Clovis, is a former Trump campaign aide and a former candidate for Iowa state treasurer. In 2014, Whitaker was the chairman of Clovis’ unsuccessful campaign.
Whitaker also served on the advisory board of a Florida company that a federal judge shut down last year and fined nearly $26 million. The company, World Patent Marketing, “bilked thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars” by promising inventors lucrative patent agreements, according to a complaint filed in Florida by the Federal Trade Commission.
Court documents show that when frustrated consumers tried to get their money back, company founder Scott Cooper used Whitaker to threaten them as a former federal prosecutor. Cooper’s company paid Whitaker nearly $10,000 before it closed.
Protesters march Thursday in Seattle for special counsel Robert Mueller and against the new acting attorney general.
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker