A great deal of speculation has swirled the past 36 hours as to who will fill the vacancy left by erstwhile Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was ousted on Wednesday. Several people, all with close ties to President Trump, have been floated as possible replacements, such as former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former New York City mayor Rudi Giuliani, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, and former Attorney General under President George H. W. Bush, William Barr.
The strong criticism following the appointment of acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is likely to intensify that speculation, as the backlash has even led to “growing concern” inside the White House, CNN reported Thursday night.
Citing senior officials, the report reveals that many in the administration were taken aback by the reaction, which the officials believe could “potentially jeopardize” Whitaker’s future in his new post should the negative coverage continue to dominate headlines.
As The News Blender thoroughly details, Whitaker’s appointment has raised questions regarding its legality. But much of the criticism has also focused on Whitaker’s previous comments regarding the Mueller probe, which he said was “ridiculous” and “smelled a little fishy.”
For example, Whitaker penned an op-ed for CNN in August 2017, in which he argued that by investigating the finances of Trump and his family, Mueller was “dangerously close to crossing” a red line in his investigation, despite clear language in the special counsel’s mandate stating otherwise.
Also, in an August 2017 appearance on the Rose Unplugged radio program, Whitaker suggested that Mueller had been appointed in bad faith by Rod Rosenstein as a result of “political pressure”:
“For whatever reason, Rod Rosenstein determined that the Department of Justice couldn’t handle this in their ordinary course of work, which I think was ridiculous,” Whitaker said about the deputy attorney general. “An effort by Jim Comey to get this put in place and have somebody that he’s very familiar with in Bob Mueller conducting investigations. So I think it smells a little fishy, but I just hope it doesn’t turn into a fishing expedition, because I will be one of them ones jumping up and down making sure the limitations on this investigation continue because that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Whitaker has also stated in radio appearances that President Trump did not obstruct justice by allegedly asking then-FBI director James Comey to halt his investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn; that Mueller’s team could be guilty of prosecutorial misconduct based on conflicts of interest; and that Mueller’s investigation was strictly political in nature and an unnecessary consumption of FBI resources.
Additionally, audio has emerged of Whitaker referring to the Russian election interference in the 2016 elections as a leftist “theory” which “has been proven false”:
BREAKING: Here's audio we found of Matthew Whitaker: "The left is trying to sow this theory that essentially Russians interfered with the US election. Which has been proven false. They did not have any impact in the election, that is clear from Obama Admin." #WhitakerMustRecuse pic.twitter.com/ObQVGFjzXt
— Scott Dworkin (@funder) November 8, 2018
Questions have also arisen surrounding Whitaker’s involvement with World Patent Marketing, Inc., a Florida-based company the Federal Trade Commission referred to as “a scam that has bilked thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars.” Whitaker was not only a member of WPM’s board, but also sent an email to a disgruntled customer in 2015 threatening “serious civil and criminal consequences” should the customer file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or “smear” the company online. Court records obtained by the Miami New Times show that WPM paid Whitaker $10,000 and donated $2,600 to his 2014 US Senate campaign.
Whitaker also has close ties to Sam Clovis, who was a former 2016 Trump campaign co-chairman and who appeared in an indictment of George Papadopoulos in his capacity as “campaign supervisor.” Clovis, a grand jury witness in the Russia probe, described himself as a very good friend of Whitaker in an interview with Talking Points Memo:
“He and I are very good friends, very close friends, and I’m very happy for him. He’ll fit right into this, he’ll be a great acting Attorney General and I hope he gets the opportunity to become the Attorney General,” Clovis said. “He’d be great for this country. He’s a strong and clear-pictured conservative and I think he’d be a great supporter of the president of the United States.”
In fact, it was Clovis who suggested that Whitaker, a chronically unsuccessful politician and U.S. Attorney, should become a regular cable news commentator to attract the President’s attention.
On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called on Whitaker to recuse himself from “any involvement” with the Russia probe. Since then, a coalition of 18 state attorneys general has sent a letter to Whitaker requesting his recusal due to “widely-circulated public comments criticizing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election,” according to the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, an estimated 900 protests were held nationwide Thursday evening to support Mueller’s investigation.
However, Whitaker has no intention of following through with these requests, according to sources close to him, nor would he likely carry out any potential subpoena of the President. But ultimately, the acting AG’s fate resides with President Trump and how he chooses to respond should the criticism continue.