The man who has been placed temporarily in charge of overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election has previously spoken out against that investigation.
Matthew Whitaker has been named as acting Attorney General after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions submitted his resignation, just a day after the 2018 midterm elections. He has previously warned Mr Mueller’s probe is coming “dangerously close to crossing” a so-called red line to not look into the Trump family’s finances.
Mr Whitaker had served as chief of staff to Mr Sessions at the Justice Department, with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had been overseeing the Mueller probe after Mr Sessions recused himself, being pushed to the sidelines.
“We are pleased to announce that Matthew G Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States,” President Donald Trump tweeted on Wednesday afternoon. “He will serve our Country well. We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date”.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department: “The Acting Attorney General is in charge of all matters under the purview of the Department of Justice”.
Mr Whitaker is former football player in Iowa who left his college athletics days behind to become a US attorney for the southern district of Iowa, from 2004 to 2009 during the administration of former President George W Bush. In 2014, Mr Whitaker ran for Senate in Iowa, but lost in the Republican primary there to now-Senator Joni Ernst.
Over the past several years, Mr Whitaker has aligned himself with the president, and has parroted the president’s rhetoric by calling the Mueller probe a “witch hunt” — and has said that Mr Rosenstein should limit the scope of that investigation.
Just last year, Mr Whitaker wrote in a CNN op-ed that any attempt by Mr Mueller and his team to investigate the president’s finances would cross a red line and take the probe out of its jurisprudence.
“Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing,” Mr Whitaker wrote then, affirming similar statements made by the president.
It is not clear if Mr Rosenstein has acted in a significant way to actually limit the investigation. Mr Whitaker’s name first began to crop up in political circles as a potential replacement for the deputy attorney general.
Mr Whitaker has also been a public critic of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was Mr Trump’s 2016 election competition.
He has said that Ms Clinton should be “extremely grateful” that she has not been prosecuted for having a private email server while she was secretary of State.
He has also said that Ms Clinton’s connections to Ukraine are “worth exploring”.