President Trump distanced himself on Friday by Deputy Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker amid the escalating scrutiny of controversial legal views and the trade plots of the president's withdrawal to manage the Justice Department and take control of the Russian investigation.
With the White House committed to managing the public scrutiny of Whitaker's background and resistance to its leadership within the Justice Department, Trump tried to pretend to speculate that he had installed the Partisan loyalist for reduce the Russian interference probe in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump insisted that he had not talked to Whitaker about the investigations conducted by Special Adviser Robert S. Mueller III – and the president rebuked a reporter when he asked if he wanted Whitaker to check Mueller. "What a stupid question," he said.
Rebel and arrogant as he left the White House on Friday morning for a weekend visit to Paris, Trump claimed four separate times that he did not know Whitaker personally, who had been head of the Department of Justice staff.
"I do not know Matt Whitaker," Trump told reporters, adding that he only knew him by reputation.
This statement is false, according to the president's past statements, as well as reports from White House officials – one of whom laughed Friday at Trump's proposal not to know Whitaker.
Trump and Whitaker met several times in the Oval Office, and Whitaker informed Trump when the president preferred not to talk to then attorney general Jeff Sessions, who had publicly despised, according to White House officials. As Trump said last month on Fox News Channel, "I know Matt Whitaker".
Furthermore, Trump was aware of the fact that Whitaker was a skeptical of the Mueller spacecraft before naming him, which took into account his decision to draw it on Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, according to the two White House advisors who spoke about the condition of anonymity to be honest
Meanwhile, Whitaker's public record is examining a new exam. This includes comments during his unsuccessful 2014 US Senate campaign for the US Senate that judges should have a "biblical vision" that can not support judiciary candidates who are "lay" and think that federal courts should be the "lower branch" of the government. Whitaker criticized the 1803 Supreme Court ruling in Marbury v. Madison, which serves as a basis for the judicial review of public policies.
The federal investigators last year also examined whether Whitaker, as a member of the consultancy committee of a Miami patent company accused of customer fraud, played a role in trying to help the company shut down critics threatening legal actions.
But it is Whitaker's explicit criticism of the Mueller investigation that led the Democrats to assume prejudice and spurred bipartisan efforts to Capitol Hill to pass legislation to protect special councils and prohibit Trump from firing him.
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she was "worried" about Whitaker's comments on Mueller and the parameters of her investigation. He called for a law stating that the special advisor could only be dismissed "for just cause and in writing" – and only by a Justice Department official confirmed by the Senate, who is not Whitaker.
"The debate in the Senate and the passage of this bill would send a powerful message that Mr. Mueller must be able to complete his work unimpeded," Collins said in a statement.
By delivering the Democratic Party's weekly address, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) Said: "A functioning democracy requires Democrats and Republicans to come together to take action next week to protect the investigations of Special Advisor Mueller."
"If we do not do it, and Donald Trump is licensed to close an investigation into his potential guilt, then our nation starts to turn into a banana republic," Murphy said in his speech, which was released on Friday. .
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Predicted that Whitaker would be "a very temporary AG" and claimed that his room would not consider legislation to protect Mueller, because "it is not necessary ".
"The Mueller investigation is not threatened," McConnell told reporters Friday in Frankfort, Kentucky. "The president has repeatedly stated that he does not intend to dismiss the Mueller investigation".
The cascade of events was put into motion on Wednesday, the day after the mid-term elections, when Trump forced the Sessions to resign after complaining bitterly for over a year that Sessions did not sufficiently protect him from Mueller's investigation.
Instead of him, Trump passed over Rosenstein, who had overseen the Russian probe, and who the White House advisers said the president did not completely trust. Instead, Trump has exploited Whitaker, who has widely spoken of the Russian probe as a legal commentator.
Whitaker told CNN he could imagine a scenario where Sessions was replaced and his successor "shrinks" [Mueller’s] budget so low that his investigation stops almost at a halt. "He also wrote in an online column for CNN – under the heading" Mueller's Trial Survey is going too far "- that the president was" absolutely correct "to suggest that Mueller would cross a red line examining the finances of Trump and his family.
Meanwhile, an online audio recording has circulated in which Whitaker expresses doubts about any Russian inference in the elections. "The left is trying to sow this theory that essentially the Russians have interfered with the US election, which has been proven false," Whitaker said. "They had no impact on the elections".
This statement contrasts directly with the conclusion of US intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the elections to help elect Trump and the Justice Department's charges of over two dozen alleged Russian agents for interference.
Within the Justice Department, there is considerable resistance against Whitaker, and some officials say they think they are not qualified to behave like attorney general at all.
Many in the building are concerned about infighting, noting that while Whitaker was serving as head of staff for the Sessions, he privately spoke to Trump as substitute as attorney general and did not disclose the conversation with Sessions. A person familiar with the matter said that Sessions was surprised when the Washington Post reported Whitaker and Trump's discussion for the first time.
Whitaker had also been seen as a gun for Rosenstein's work, which created embarrassment among the department's executives, officials said.
At the White House and the Justice Department, senior assistants were taken aback by Whitaker's work reports on the World Patent Marketing Advisory Board in Miami, which was accused of defrauding its customers. Officials said they were particularly stunned by emails showing that Whitaker invoked his previous job as a US lawyer to threaten a man who had complained about the company.
Whitaker also rejected an October 2017 quotation from the Federal Trade Commission in search of his company-related documents, according to two people familiar with the case.
Also, under scrutiny, the work of Whitaker as an American attorney for the southern district of Iowa. In one of the most publicized cases, Whitaker's office brought charges against an openly gay Democratic senator, Matt McCoy, for allegedly using his office to extort about $ 2,000 from a local company that installed motion sensors in the homes of the elderly to monitor their health.
McCoy said he believed the case was motivated because of his politics and sexual orientation, and a jury declared him not guilty. A Justice Department spokesman said the case was brought on the merits, not because of politics. Yet for Whitaker, the case ended up with defeat and harsh criticism in the local press.
The White House did not carefully check Whitaker before Trump appointed him attorney general, because he was "already head of staff," according to a White House official. This official said that Whitaker is unlikely to be removed from office "unless he comes out of it".
In Trump's orbit, one of Whitaker's supporters was Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, who internally guaranteed Whitaker's managerial skills and told White House officials that he would be a more decisive leader of the Sessions , according to a person familiar with the question.
Leo did not know that at the time he advised Whitaker to be the head of Sessions' staff about his work for the suspected patent company, but this week he was stuck by the attorney general.
Trying to quell the domestic concerns and public doubts that have been raised about Whitaker, Rosenstein praised his new boss in brief comments to journalists on Friday in Alexandria, Virginia.
"I think it's an excellent choice for the attorney general," said Rosenstein. "He certainly understands the job, understands the department's priorities, I think he will do a great job as attorney general." He added that he delivered the same message on Thursday in a conference call with prosecutors across the country.
Other department officials said they saw Whitaker as a capable and tough manager who drew his football experience to try to motivate people. Trump said that Whitaker is "a very strong personality – and I think that's what they need".
Lawyers in the Justice Department are preparing for the likelihood that they will face legal cases on the constitutionality of Whitaker's appointment. A Justice Department official said lawyers feared that the challengers would be able to find a judge, at least at the district level, that he would be amicable at the Whitaker authorities' claims – whether or not they were – and would cause further anxiety in the department.
Lawyers Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III, who emerged as important critics of the Trump administration, argued in a column in the New York Times this week that Whitaker's appointment is unconstitutional because the nomination clause of the Constitution requires "chief officers" that relationship to the president be confirmed by the Senate. Some other legal scholars dispute this topic.
Taking a cue from some of their points, however, Senate minority leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) wrote a letter to Trump on Friday calling the appointment of Whitaker "unprecedented" and asking him to explain in detail why not has allowed Rosenstein, which has been confirmed by the Senate, to assume the role, as it would have happened by default.
Speaking to journalists on Friday, Trump distanced himself from Whitaker, just as he did with other close associates – including former campaign president Paul Manafort and former personal lawyer Michael Cohen – once involved in controversy.
"Well, Matt Whitaker, I do not know Matt Whitaker," Trump said. "Matt Whitaker has worked for Jeff Sessions, and has always been highly esteemed, and still is, but I did not know Matt Whitaker."
Trump went on to praise Whitaker as "a very intelligent man", "very respected" and "at the top of the list" – and claimed that his selection for the Sessions success "was greeted with enthusiasm".
Administration officials and outside advisers said later that they were struggling to find out the significance of Trump's claim that he did not know Whitaker.
"Could you run away from him?" "I guess that's possible," said a person close to Trump and the Justice Department. "I think he's just trying to kick the jar and not face the situation."
White House officials said that Whitaker is unlikely to be appointed as a permanent attorney general, a position that would require confirmation from the Senate. Trump mentioned so much when he turned to journalists on Friday.
"We'll see what happens," Trump said, adding that he is evaluating a number of candidates. "I have very, very good people, but I mean, there's no hurry."
Devlin Barrett, Rosalind S. Helderman, Michael Kranish, Carol D. Leonnig and John Wagner contributed to this relationship.