Former White House counsel Don McGahn interviewed Matthew Whitaker, who has since been named ActingMatthew G WhitakerRosenstein calls Whitaker ‘superb’ choice for acting AG: report Trump: George Conway is ‘just trying to get publicity for himself’ Trump defends choice for acting AG, but also says he doesn’t know him MORE attorney general, about joining President TrumpDonald John TrumpEx-White House counsel interviewed Whitaker about joining Trump’s legal team: report Flake slams Trump for doubting Arizona vote count: No evidence of ‘electoral corruption’ Comey talked about sensitive FBI matters on personal email: report MORE‘s legal team last year, The New York Times reports.
McGahn, who left the White House last month, interviewed Whitaker in July 2017 about taking the position, according to the Times, which described Whitaker being interviewed to be “a legal attack dog” against special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE.
The White House ultimately did not hire Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney from Iowa, who then continued a media tour last year that included writing op-eds, including one for The Hill, criticizing Mueller’s sprawling investigation as having gone too far.
Trump announced Whitaker as the acting attorney general this week after asking for and accepting Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsEx-White House counsel interviewed Whitaker about joining Trump’s legal team: report Flake: Whitaker shouldn’t oversee Mueller probe FBI investigating Florida company Trump’s acting AG was involved in: report MORE‘s resignation.
The president had for over a year openly mocked Sessions and blasted his decision to recuse himself from the federal Russia probe being led by Mueller, which is examining ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.
Legal experts have criticized Whitaker’s appointment to lead the Justice Department, saying the position must be confirmed by the Senate. Lawmakers have also blasted Trump for installing a GOP loyalist to the position to oversee Mueller’s probe.
“As an unconfirmed political appointee, Mr. Whitaker has not been subject to the scrutiny that the Constitution requires to ensure that he has the character, integrity and ability to fulfill the grave responsibilities of this job,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote Monday in a letter to Trump.
Trump on Friday defended his choice of Whitaker to replace Sessions atop the Justice Department, while claiming that he didn’t know him personally.
“I didn’t speak to Matt WhitakerMatthew G WhitakerBill Maher: Trump crossed a ‘red line’ with Whitaker appointment Ex-White House counsel interviewed Whitaker about joining Trump’s legal team: report Rosenstein calls Whitaker ‘superb’ choice for acting AG: report MORE about it. I don’t know Matt Whitaker,” Trump told reporters at the White House before leaving for a trip to Paris.
Whitaker, who served as Sessions’s chief of staff at the Justice Department, reportedly met with Trump roughly a dozen times in the Oval Office.
CNN also reported that McGahn was influential in getting Whitaker to become Session’s chief of staff at the Justice Department.
McGahn departed his role as White House counsel last month after the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughEx-White House counsel interviewed Whitaker about joining Trump’s legal team: report Political polarization the critical threat to US, foreign policy experts say How much power do states have? Supreme Court holds the answer MORE.
Trump echoed his comments about Whitaker in tweets late Friday night, saying he had “no social contact” with him before his appointment this week.
Matthew G. Whitaker is a highly respected former U.S. Attorney from Iowa. He was chosen by Jeff Sessions to be his Chief of Staff. I did not know Mr. Whitaker. Likewise, as Chief, I did not know Mr. Whitaker except primarily as he traveled with A.G. Sessions. No social contact…
….Mr. Whitaker is very highly thought of by @SenJoniErnst, Senator @ChuckGrassley, Ambassador @TerryBranstad, Leonard Leo of Federalist Society, and many more. I feel certain he will make an outstanding Acting Attorney General!