Before Matt Whitaker was tapped to replace his boss, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he was perhaps best known as a commenter on CNN, where he provided a right-wing viewpoint by ranting against the Russia investigation.
Some say that’s precisely why Whitaker got the job. Before being named acting attorney general, he was Sessions’ chief of staff. The most logical replacement would have been the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.
The legitimacy of President Donald Trump’s appointment of Whitaker has already been called into question, as he has so publicly criticized the very investigation he now oversees at the Department of Justice. CNN paid him $15,000 last year to opine on special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into foreign interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign was involved.
Taken together, these Whitaker opinions present what appears to be clear conflict of interest. Here are five examples:
That time Whitaker said nothing would come of the investigation.
“There is no evidence — and we would know by now, with as much leaking as there has been — that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials,” Whitaker said on CNN in June 2017.
That time Whitaker suggested capping Mueller’s budget to impede the investigation.
“I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment, and that attorney general does not fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt,” he said on a CNN panel in July 2017.
That time Whitaker defended Donald Trump Jr. for meeting with a Russian lawyer to talk about Hillary Clinton.
“We have no information right now that would suggest that he knew who this individual was that he was meeting with,” he said on CNN later in July 2017. “They just knew that they must have been sold the fact that there was some really good information that they needed to hear.”
The legality of Trump Jr.’s actions ― seeking damaging information on an opposing political candidate from a foreign government ― is extremely murky. The president’s eldest son may have broken U.S. election law.
That time Whitaker said investigating the Trump Organization’s finances for ties to Russia crossed a “red line.”
“We cannot have [an] unaccountable prosecutor that pursues whatever they want to pursue,” Whitaker told CNN’s Chris Cuomo in August 2017. Mueller has reportedly been looking into possible ties between the Trump Organization and Russia as part of his investigation.
The special prosecutor has handed off one tangentially related investigation ― illegal business dealings by Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen ― to other prosecutors, however.
That time he wrote the network an op-ed titled “Mueller’s investigation is going too far.”
Whitaker said in the editorial, published this month, that the probe could be “a mere witch hunt.”
“Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing,” Whitaker repeated, referring to the reports that Mueller is investigating the Trump Organization.