President Trump distanced himself from acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker on Friday as the president's controversial legal views and business involvement in directing the Ministry of Justice and taking control of the investigation in Russia intensify.
While the White House sought to publicly question Whitaker's background and resistance to his leadership in the Ministry of Justice, Trump attempted to speculate that he had installed the partisan loyalist in an attempt to prevent the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump insisted that he had not spoken with Whitaker about the investigation being headed by Special Prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III. The President cursed a reporter when she asked if he should put Whitaker in Mueller. "What a stupid question," he said.
Trump and defiant when he left the White House for a weekend visit to Paris on Friday morning, Trump claimed four times that he did not personally know Whitaker, who had served as Chief of Staff for the Department of Justice.
"I do not know Matt Whitaker," Trump told reporters, adding that he knew him only through his reputation.
This claim is wrong, according to the President's earlier statements and the White House officials' reports – one of them laughed Friday about Trump's suggestion that he did not know Whitaker.
Trump and Whitaker met several times in the Oval Office, and Whitaker informed Trump when the president chose not to speak to then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom he had publicly denounced, according to the White House. As Trump said in the Fox News Channel last month, "I know Matt Whitaker."
In addition, Trump knew that Whitaker was a skeptic of the Mueller investigation before he appointed him, which implicated him in his decision to sue Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, according to two White House advisers who talked about the condition of anonymity be honest
Meanwhile, Whitaker's public record is a new test. This includes comments during his unsuccessful 2014 campaign in Iowa for the US Senate that judges should have a "biblical view" that he could not support legal candidates who are "secular" and that he believes federal courts the "inferior branch" are. the government. Whitaker criticized the 1803 Supreme Court ruling Marbury vs Madison, which serves as the basis for a judicial review of public policy.
Federal investigators also investigated last year whether Whitaker, as a board member of a Miami patent company charged with fraud by customers, had played a role in helping the company silence critics by threatening court cases.
But it is Whitaker's outspoken criticism of the Mueller investigation that has prompted the Democrats to accept prejudice and cause the efforts of the two parties on Capitol Hill to legislate to protect the special lawyer and prevent Trump from joining him dismiss.
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Friday she was "worried" about Whitaker's comments on Mueller and the parameters of his investigation. She called for legislation stating that the Special Prosecutor can only be dismissed "for good cause and in writing" – and only by a Senate-certified Justice Department official, which Whitaker is not.
"The Senate debate and adoption of this bill would send a strong message that Mr Muller must be able to complete his work unhindered," Collins said in a statement.
Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) Said in his weekly address to the Democratic Party, "A functioning democracy requires Democrats and Republicans to come together next week to take action to protect Mueller's Special Prosecutor's investigation."
"If we do not do that, and Donald Trump is given permission to stop investigating his own wrongdoing, our nation will begin to develop into a banana republic," Murphy said in his speech released on Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Predicted that Whitaker would be a "very interim AG," and said his chamber would not consider legislating to protect Muller because "this is not necessary ".
"Mueller's investigations are not in jeopardy," McConnell said Friday in Frankfort, Ky. "The President has repeatedly said he will not dismiss Mueller's investigation."
The cascade of events started on Wednesday, the day after the midterm elections, when Trump called on Sessions to resign after complaining bitterly for more than a year that Sessions had not adequately protected him from Müller's investigation.
As successor, Trump passed Rosenstein, who overseen the Russia investigation and who, according to White House advisers, did not fully trust the president. Instead, Trump touched Whitaker, who dealt extensively with the Russia investigation as a legal commentator.
Whitaker said on CNN that he could imagine a scenario in which sessions were replaced and his successor "only diminishes." [Mueller’s] Budget too low, so that his investigations almost come to a standstill. He also wrote in an online column for CNN – under the headline "Muller's Trump investigation goes too far" – that the president was "absolutely right" to suggest Mueller would exceed a red line by breaking the finances of Trump and his family examined.
Meanwhile, an audio recording is circulated online in which Whitaker expresses doubts about a Russian election decline. "The Left is trying to sow this theory that Russians have essentially influenced the election in the US, which turned out to be wrong," Whitaker said. "They had no influence on the election."
This statement is in direct contradiction to the US secret service's conclusion that Russia was included in the election to help with the election of Trump and the prosecution of more than two dozen alleged Russian agents by the Department of Justice.
There is considerable resistance in the Ministry of Justice to Whitaker, and some officials say that they believe he is completely unqualified to act as Attorney General.
Many in the building are worried about the fight. They noted that while Whitaker served as Chief of Staff of Sessions, Whitaker had privately talked with Trump about acting as Attorney General, and the conversation did not disclose sessions. One person familiar with the matter said Sessions was surprised when The Washington Post first reported on the discussions of Whitaker and Trump.
Whitaker was also seen as a shootout for Rosenstein's job, which led to discomfort among the department heads, officials said.
In both the White House and the Judiciary Department, senior executives were surprised by the reports of Whitaker's work on the advisory panel of World Patent Marketing in Miami, which was accused of cheating on his customers. Officials said they were particularly stunned by emails claiming Whitaker had used his former job as a US attorney to threaten a man who had complained about the company.
Whitaker also rejected a subpoena from the Federal Trade Commission in October 2017 looking for his records on the company. Two people who knew about the case.
Whitaker's work as a US attorney for the Southern District of Iowa is also under scrutiny. In one of his most publicized cases, Whitaker's office filed a lawsuit against Democrat Democrat Democrat Matt McCoy, who allegedly blackmailed around $ 2,000 in his office from a local company that installed motion sensors in retirement homes to monitor their health ,
McCoy said he believes the case is motivated by his politics and sexual orientation, and a jury did not find him guilty. A spokesman for the Department of Justice said the case had been brought not because of politics but because of his merit. For Whitaker, however, the case ended with defeat and sharp criticism in the local press.
The White House did not thoroughly investigate Whitaker before Trump appointed him Deputy Prosecutor General because he was "already Chief of Staff," a White House official said. This official said that Whitaker is unlikely to be removed from his temporary post when "no more comes out."
In Trump's Orbit, one of Whitaker's supporters was Leonard Leo, Deputy Vice President of the Federalist Society, who vouched internally for Whitaker's management skills and told White House officials he was, according to a known person, a key leader rather than sessions on the matter
Leo did not know when he had advised Whitaker to be head of the sessions about his work for the suspected patent company, but he stayed with the deputy attorney general this week, the person said.
Rosenstein sought to address the internal concerns and doubts of the public raised against Whitaker and praised his new boss on Friday in Alexandria, Virginia.
"I think he is an excellent choice for the Attorney General," Rosenstein said. "He certainly understands the work, understands the priorities of the department. I think he will do an excellent job as Attorney General. He added that he delivered the same message Thursday in a teleconference with prosecutors across the country.
Other officials in the department said they regarded Whitaker as a capable and hard-working manager who used his footballing experience to motivate people. Trump said Whitaker is "a very strong personality – and I think that's what they need."
Attorneys at the Department of Justice are preparing for the likelihood that they will be prosecuted for the constitutionality of Whitaker's appointment. A Justice Department official feared lawyers feared that challengers, at least at the district court level, could find a judge who would be friendly to Whitaker's authority – whether or not they had merit – and incite further disquiet in the department.
Attorneys Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III, who have emerged as prominent critics of the Trump administration, argued in a New York Times column this week that the appointment of Whitaker was unconstitutional, as the Constitution's appointment clause "Principal Officers "report to the President to be confirmed by the Senate. Some other jurists dispute this argument.
However, some of the scores were summoned by Senate minority leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) on Friday in a letter to Trump calling Mr. Whitaker's appointment "unprecedented" and urging him to describe exactly why he was Rosenstein had not let the Senate confirm, take the role as if it happened by default.
In a conversation with the reporters, Trump distanced himself from Whitaker on Friday, just as he had with other close peers – including former election chairman Paul Manafort and former private attorney Michael Cohen, as soon as they get into controversy.
"Well, Matt Whitaker – I do not know Matt Whitaker," Trump said. "Matt Whitaker worked for Jeff Sessions, and he has always been very fond, and still is. But I did not know Matt Whitaker. "
Trump praised Whitaker as "a very smart man", "very respected" and "at the top of the line" – and claimed that his election for the succession of sessions was "welcomed by raves."
Administrative officials and outside advisors later said Friday that they had trouble understanding the meaning of Trump's claim that he did not know Whitaker.
"Could he run in front of him? I think that's possible, "said one person near Trump and the Ministry of Justice. "I think he's just trying to kick the can and not deal with the situation."
White House officials said Whitaker was unlikely to be appointed permanent Attorney General, a position that would require Senate approval. Trump hinted at this when he dealt with the reporters on Friday.
"We'll see what happens," said Trump, adding that he considers a number of candidates. "I have very, very good people. But I mean, there is no hurry. "
Devlin Barrett, Rosalind S. Helderman, Michael Kranish, Carol D. Leonnig and John Wagner contributed to this report.