The nation’s acting top law enforcement official was aligned with a company that is currently under investigation by the department he now oversees.
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker was paid $9,375 in 2014 by a Florida company called World Patent Marketing Inc. to serve in an advisory role, and, as a former U.S. attorney, vouch for the business’s general good standing.
World Patent Marketing Inc. is now the subject of an ongoing criminal inquiry by the FBI, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. And as of Wednesday, Whitaker is serving as attorney general, a role that could give him ultimate oversight into that investigation.
Per the Journal, the investigation is being undertaken by the FBI field office in Miami as well as the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. There’s no indication that Whitaker, who has been acting attorney general for little more than 48 hours, has taken any action or even been briefed on the case. Justice Department ethics officials will undoubtedly call on Whitaker to recuse himself from the investigation, though it’s unclear whether he has met with ethics officials at this point.
The Washington Post, citing two anonymous sources, reported that Whitaker rebuffed an FTC subpoena in 2017 seeking his records related to the company.
Although the FTC argued World Patent Marketing was little more than “a scam that has bilked thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars,” Whitaker saw it differently in a December 2014 press release for the company:
“As a former US Attorney, I would only align myself with a first class organization. World Patent Marketing goes beyond making statements about doing business ‘ethically’ and translates them into action.”
The revelation about the investigation comes as Whitaker, a little-known Iowa Republican whose relationship with President Donald Trump led to his appointment Wednesday, appears prepared to seize control of the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation in spite of his extensive remarks about the probe as a cable news commentator.
Before he joined the Justice Department as former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff last year, Whitaker routinely disparaged the special counsel investigation in appearances on CNN and on the radio. Whitaker was paid a $402,000 salary by a dark money group called the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, which criticized Democrats on ethics grounds. FACT was meant to be the conservative answer to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a liberal watchdog group that on Thursday called on Whitaker to recuse himself from the Mueller investigation.
It’s unclear at this point whether Whitaker has been formally looped in on the status of the Mueller probe. Within the Justice Department, there’s little faith that Whitaker will recuse himself from the Mueller investigation, even if DOJ’s career ethics officials recommend he do so.
The Justice Department didn’t immediately return a request for comment late Friday.
Last month, Trump said on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” show that Whitaker “is a great guy” and said that he knew him but declined to talk about any conversations he had had with him about taking on the role. But by Friday, Trump declared that he doesn’t know Whitaker and claimed he had never spoken to him about the Mueller probe.
By Friday evening, Whitaker’s LinkedIn page had already been updated to reflect his new title.