On Wednesday, Trump forced out Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him with Whitaker, who was formerly Sessions’ chief of staff.
In less than two days, Whitaker has come under fire for his previous vocal criticisms of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, which he now oversees; his scant qualifications to become the nation’s top lawyer; his connection to a company that has been called a scam; and for Trump’s subversion of the Justice Department’s legally mandated succession plan in appointing him. A growing chorus of legal experts say the latter makes Whitaker’s appointment unconstitutional.
“I don’t know Matt Whitaker,” Trump said of the new acting attorney general, saying he hired him because he had worked for Sessions. “He was always extremely highly thought of, and he still is. But I didn’t know Matt Whitaker. He worked for Attorney General Sessions.”
In an Oct. 11 interview with Fox News, Trump gave the impression that he knew Matt Whitaker. “I can tell you Matt Whitaker’s a great guy. I know Matt Whitaker,” he said.
According to CNN, Trump and Whitaker had developed a good relationship, meeting more than a dozen times in the Oval Office. “And over the last year, Whitaker has told friends about his growing relationship with Trump,” the news channel reported today. “The President knew that he had played football and the tall, brawny former US attorney fit the image Trump liked, according to people familiar with their conversations, far more than the diminutive Sessions, whom Trump mocked.”
The FBI said on Friday afternoon that it was investigating a company where Whitaker was a board member. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the FBI’s Miami office are looking into World Patent Marketing, which the Federal Trade Commission accused of defrauding consumers of more than $26 million. The company, which counted Whitaker as an adviser and promised to help inventors secure patents, settled in March.
Several legal experts — including constitutional scholar Lawrence Tribe and Washington lawyer George Conway, husband of Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway — say that Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general was unconstitutional. The Constitution requires that anyone who is directly accountable only to the president (as the attorney general is) must be confirmed by the Senate. Whitaker was not.
On Friday night, Reuters reported that Senate Democrats are considering a lawsuit over the appointment.