President Trump resigned from Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker Friday in the midst of intensifying oversight of controversial legal views and business complications of the President's choice to lead the Ministry of Justice and control over Russia. undertake research.
As the White House clambered to manage the public inquiry into the background of Whitaker and his opposition to his leadership within the Department of Justice, Trump tried to stifle speculation that he had installed the partisan loyalist to the probe of Russian interference in the presidential campaign of 2016.
Trump insisted that he had not talked to Whitaker about the investigation led by Special Counselor Robert S. Mueller III – and the president blames a reporter when she asks him if he would let Whitaker in Mueller curb it. "What a stupid question," he said.
Challenging and astute when he left the White House on Friday morning for a weekend visit to Paris, Trump claimed four times that he did not personally know Whitaker, who had worked as a chief of staff at the Ministry of Justice.
"I do not know Matt Whitaker," Trump told reporters, adding that he only knew him by reputation.
That claim is incorrect, according to the past statements by the president and the accounts of the White House officials – one of whom had a laugh Friday on Trump's suggestion that he did not know Whitaker.
Trump and Whitaker met at the Oval Office several times, and Whitaker informed Trump if the president would rather not talk to him-Prosecutor General Jeff Sessions, whom he had publicly disparaged according to public officials at the White House. As Trump said last month on Fox News Channel: "I know Matt Whitaker."
Moreover, Trump was aware that Whitaker was a skeptic of the Mueller probe before he was appointed, which was a factor in his decision to withdraw him from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, according to two White House advisers. those who spoke about the condition of anonymity pointed out frankly.
Meanwhile, Whitaker's public report is drawing a new investigation. That includes remarks during his unsuccessful 2014 campaign in Iowa for the US senate that judges would have a "biblical view" that he would not be able to support judicial candidates who are "secular" and that he thinks that federal courts "the inferior branch" "would be from the government. Whitaker has criticized the 1803 ruling of the Supreme Court in Marbury v. Madison, that serves as the basis for judicial review of government policy.
Federal investigators last year also examined whether Whitaker, as a member of the advisory board of a US patent office in Miami accused of fraud by customers, played a role in trying to silence the company's critics by threatening legal action.
But it is Whitaker's pronounced criticism of the Mueller investigation that led Democrats to have biased and dissolute efforts on Capitol Hill to adopt legislation designed to protect special counsel and forbid Trump from firing him .
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Friday that she "worries" about Whitaker's comments about Mueller and the parameters of his research. She called for legislation that stipulates that the Special Council can only be dismissed "for good cause and in writing" – and only by an official of the Ministry of Justice confirmed by the Senate, who is not Whitaker.
"Senate discussion and the passing of this bill would send a strong signal that Mr. Mueller must be able to complete his work unhindered," Collins said in a statement.
To deliver the weekly address of the Democratic Party, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) Said: "For a well-functioning democracy, Democrats and Republicans are obliged to take action next week to protect the research of special adviser Mueller."
"If we do not, and Donald Trump gets the permit to conduct an investigation into his own possible offenses, then our country begins to move to a banana republic," Murphy said in his speech, which was Friday. released.
Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Predicted that Whitaker would be "a very interim AG" and said his chamber would not consider legislation to protect Mueller because "it is not necessary".
"The Mueller research is not threatened," McConnell said Friday to journalists in Frankfort, KY. "The president has repeatedly said that he will not reject the Mueller investigation."
The succession of events was put into operation on Wednesday morning, the day after the midterm elections, when Trump forced Sessions to resign after more than a year of bitter criticism that Sessions had not protected him enough against the Mueller investigation.
In replacing him, Trump went past Rosenstein, who had overseen the Russian probe, and those White House advisers said the president did not fully trust. Instead, Trump Whitaker tapped into the Russian question as a legal commentator.
Whitaker said on CNN that he could think of a scenario where Sessions was replaced and his successor "just got less [Mueller’s] budget so low that his research almost comes to a standstill. "He also wrote in an online column for CNN – under the heading" Mueller's research on Trump goes too far "- that the president was" absolutely correct "to suggest that Mueller would cross a red line through the finances of Trump and his family to investigate.
Meanwhile, an audio recording is circulating online, in which Whitaker expresses doubts about any Russian inference at elections. "The left is trying to sow this theory, that in essence the Russians were interfering with the US elections, which have been proven not to be correct," Whitaker said. "They had no influence on the elections."
That assertion goes directly against American intelligence's conclusion that Russia intervened in the elections to help Trump and the charges of the Ministry of Justice against more than two dozen alleged Russian agents for interference.
There is considerable resistance within the Ministry of Justice to Whitaker, and some officials say they think he is completely unfit to act as a lawyer-general.
Many in the building are worried about power struggles, noting that while Whitaker served as the chief of staff at Sessions, he spoke privately with Trump about taking over the post of attorney general and did not make the conversation public to Sessions. Someone familiar with the case said that Sessions was surprised when The Washington Post reported for the first time on Whitaker and Trump's discussion.
Whitaker was also seen as a contract for the task of Rosenstein, causing awkwardness at the head of department, officials said.
In the White House and the Department of Justice, senior assistants were surprised by news reports about Whitaker's work in the World Patent Marketing Council in Miami, which was accused of deceiving its customers. Officials said they were particularly stunned by e-mails in which Whitaker called his former job as an American lawyer to threaten a man who had complained about the company.
Whitaker also refused a subpoena in October 2017 from the Federal Trade Commission, seeking information about the company, according to two people with knowledge of the case.
The work of Whitaker as a lawyer in the United States in the southern district of Iowa is also under scrutiny. In one of the most publicized cases, Whitaker's office brought charges against an openly gay democratic senator, Matt McCoy, because he reportedly used his office to extort about $ 2,000 from a local company that had motion sensors in the homes of Seniors installed to check their health.
McCoy said he believed the case was motivated because of his political and sexual orientation, and a jury found him not guilty. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said the case was brought to its merits, not because of politics. But for Whitaker, the case ended in defeat and harsh criticism in the local press.
The White House has not thoroughly screened Whitaker before Trump appointed him as Acting Prosecutor General because he & # 39; s already head of staff & # 39; was, according to an official of the White House. This official said that Whitaker is unlikely to be removed from his interim position "unless more is available".
Within the Trump job, one of the advocates of Whitaker Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, who internally stood for Whitaker's management skills and told the White House officials that he would be a more decisive leader then Sessions, according to a familiar person with the case.
Leo did not know at the time that he had recommended Whitaker to be Sessions' chief of staff on his work for the suspected patent company, but this week he was detained by the acting Attorney General, the person said.
In order to suppress the internal worries and public doubts about Whitaker, Rosenstein praises his new boss in short comments to Friday's reporters in Alexandria, Virginia.
"I think he is an excellent choice for the Attorney General," Rosenstein said. "He certainly understands the work, understands the department's priorities, and I think he will do a fantastic job as a prosecutor general." He added that he was on the same message Thursday in a conference call with prosecutors across the country.
Other officers within the department said they considered Whitaker as a competent and hard-working manager who tried to motivate his football experience to motivate people. Trump said that Whitaker was "a very strong personality" and I think that's what they need. "
Lawyers from the Ministry of Justice are afraid of the likelihood that they will get lawsuits on the constitutionality of Whitaker's appointment. According to a Ministry of Justice official, lawyers were concerned that challengers might find a judge, at least at the district court level, who would be friendly to Whitaker's authority – whether they had merit or not – and even more frightened the department. .
Lawyers Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III, who emerged as prominent critics of the Trump government, argued this week in a column in the New York Times that the appointment of Whitaker was unconstitutional because the appointment clause of the Constitution " chief officers "required report to the president confirmed by the Senate. Some other lawyers dispute this argument.
Somalian Senate minister Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) however, touched upon some of his points. On Friday, he wrote a letter to Trump calling Whitaker's appointment "unprecedented" and asked him to explain specifically why he had not let Rosenstein come. confirmed by the Senate, take the role, as would have been standard.
When he spoke with the reporters on Friday, he distanced himself from Whitaker, just as he did with other close associates – including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former personal lawyer Michael Cohen – as soon as they got involved in controversy.
Well, Matt Whitaker – I do not know Matt Whitaker, & # 39; Trump said. "Matt Whitaker worked for Jeff Sessions, and he was always extremely well-informed, and he still is, but I did not know Matt Whitaker."
Trump continued to praise Whitaker as "a very smart man", "very respected" and "at the top of the line" – and claimed his selection to follow Sessions "was greeted with raves."
Board officials and external advisors said later Friday that they were struggling to understand the meaning of Trump's claim that he did not know Whitaker.
"Could he run away from him? I think it's possible," said a person near Trump and the Justice Department. "I think he just tries to kick the gaze and does not deal with the situation."
Officials at the White House said that Whitaker is unlikely to be nominated as the permanent Attorney General, a function that requires confirmation from the Senate. Trump hinted just as much when he spoke to reporters on Friday.
"We will see what happens," Trump said, adding that he is considering a number of candidates. "I have a few very good people, but I mean, there is no rush."
Devlin Barrett, Rosalind S. Helderman, Michael Kranish, Carol D. Leonnig and John Wagner contributed to this report.