Secret donors paid a lucrative salary to acting AG Whitaker
Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general, was paid more than $1.2 million in the past few years by a group active in conservative politics that does not reveal its donors, according to financial disclosure statements released Tuesday.
The disclosure raised questions about who Whitaker’s financial patrons had been before he joined the Justice Department last year and whether he might have any undisclosed conflicts of interest. And it highlighted the prominence of so-called dark money groups that pursue political agendas and employ members of both parties without being required to make public the source of their funding.
Whitaker worked for nearly four years as the executive director of the group, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, also known as FACT, before being tapped as chief of staff for Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general, in September 2017. Whitaker became acting attorney general this month after Sessions was forced out.
The group provided the overwhelming majority of his income since at least 2016, according to the filings released Tuesday by the Justice Department.
During the period covered by the filings, the next largest source of income for Whitaker, a lawyer, was $103,000 from a law firm in which he was a partner. He was also paid $15,000 by CNN, where he appeared on air as a legal analyst, and was often identified as the executive director of FACT.
In appearances on the network, he defended President Donald Trump and criticized the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and connections between Russia and Trump’s team. Those appearances caught the eye of the White House, according to people who worked with the administration at the time.
Whitaker also faced new questions on Tuesday about donations to his unsuccessful 2014 campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Iowa. Whitaker’s campaign committee received four donations totaling $8,800 this year, a few months after he joined the Justice Department, records show.
Executive branch officials are generally prohibited by a federal law, the Hatch Act, from knowingly soliciting or accepting campaign donations.
As acting attorney general, Whitaker now oversees the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller, raising concerns on both sides of the aisle about his willingness to allow the investigation to proceed unfettered.
FACT has raised nearly $3.5 million since its inception in 2014, according to tax filings, which show that the group’s largest single expense was Whitaker’s salary.
There is very little publicly available information about FACT’S financing.
Donorstrust, a conservative foundation that allows other conservative foundations to mask their giving, provided FACT’S seed funding – $600,000 donated in 2014 – but the original source of that donation is not clear.
FACT applied for a grant in April 2016 from Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a group funded by the network of conservative donors led by the industrialist brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, according to people familiar with the grant request. The people said that the request was not fulfilled.
FACT is registered under a section of the tax code – 501©3 – that allows groups to accept unlimited donations from people, corporations and unions without publicly disclosing the donors’ identities.
Such groups, and those registered under section 501©4, which allows more overt campaign activity, have played increasingly prominent roles in U.S. politics in recent years.
Raeanna Woody’s crimes hardly seemed like they would add up to a life sentence in prison. She had two nonviolent drug convictions, for possessing marijuana and delivering 12 grams of methamphetamine. But when she was arrested in a third drug case, she said, the office of U.S. Attorney Matthew Whitaker decided to make an example of her.
Under Whitaker, who is now acting attorney general, Woody was given a choice: spend the rest of her life in jail, or accept a plea bargain sentence of 21 to 27 years, according to court records. She took the deal.
Federal Judge Robert Pratt in the Southern District of Iowa later accused prosecutors of having “misused” their authority in her nonviolent case. He urged President Barack Obama to commute her sentence — and Obama did shorten her term, after she had served 11 years.
Woody’s case highlights one of the most controversial if little-known aspects of Whitaker’s career: his efforts to obtain unusually stiff sentences for people accused of drug crimes.
Whitaker spent nearly five years as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. His office was more likely than all but one other district in the United States to use its authority to impose the harshest sentences on drug offenders, according to a finding by a different Iowa federal judge, Mark
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker worked for nearly four years as the executive director of FACT, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust.