Trump on new acting AG: “I don’t know Matt Whitaker”

President Donald Trump distanced himself Friday from his new acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, whose past business ties and comments on the Russia investigation and other topics have drawn scrutiny.

Trump elevated Whitaker to the post on Wednesday after forcing out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, installing a Republican Party loyalist to oversee the special counsel investigation into possible ties between Russia and the president’s 2016 campaign.

Since then, Whitaker, who had been Sessions’ chief of staff, has faced pressure from Democrats to recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller, based on critical comments he made about the investigation before joining the Justice Department last year.

Those include an op-ed in which he said Mueller would be straying outside his mandate if he investigated Trump family finances and a talk radio interview in which he maintained that there was no evidence of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.

There have also been reports about past comments questioning the power and reach of the federal judiciary, and about his ties to an invention-promotion company that was accused of misleading investors.

Asked about Whitaker on Friday, Trump told journalists: “I don’t know Matt Whitaker. Matt Whitaker worked for Jeff Sessions, and he was always extremely highly thought of, and he still is. But I didn’t know Matt Whitaker. He worked for Attorney General Sessions.”

He said he had not spoken with Whitaker about Mueller’s investigation, which until now has been overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Of the scrutiny Whitaker is facing, Trump said: “It’s a shame that no matter who I put in they go after.”

“He was very, very highly thought of, and still is highly thought of, but this only comes up because anybody that works for me, they do a number on them,” Trump said

Trump has not said who he will nominate to permanently replace Sessions. That candidate, unlike Whitaker, would have to be confirmed by the Senate.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is said to be a candidate, along with Labor Secretary Alex Acosta and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, among others.

Trump told reporters he has not discussed the post with Christie, who he said was “a friend of mine” and “a good man.”

[Washington Post]

Reality

Matthew Whitaker, Mueller’s New Boss, Said There Was ‘No Collusion’ With Russia

A year-and-a-half before he took responsibility for overseeing the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, Matthew Whitaker, now the acting attorney general, had already reached a conclusion.

“The truth is there was no collusion with the Russians and the Trump campaign,” he said in an interview on the Wilkow Majority show. “There was interference by the Russians into the election, but that was not collusion with the campaign. That’s where the left seems to be combining those two issues.”

“The last thing they want right now is for the truth to come out, and for the fact that there’s not a single piece of evidence that demonstrates that the Trump campaign had any illegal or any improper relationships with the Russians. It’s that simple.”

What Whitaker was basing this declaration on is unclear. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the matter was just three months old at the time and it has—and remains—a lock box when it comes to its findings.

But Whitaker no longer is merely just offering his analysis on the matter. On Wednesday he became the top law-enforcement officer in the nation and, with it, was given effective control of the Mueller probe. His critics—and there are many—fear he will use his leverage to either curtail or fully end the investigation. And they’ve pointed to comments like the one he made to the Wilkow Majority show as evidence that he not only brings a clear bias to his post but has pre-determined the outcome of the investigation he’s now running.

There are numerous other comments, too.

Less than two years ago, Whitaker was a former federal prosecutor and twice-failed political candidate in charge of a small conservative government watchdog group with only a handful of employees. But for conservative media audiences, he is quite familiar.

Over the past three years, he used his position as the executive director of conservative government watchdog group Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) as an opportunity to become a right-leaning political pundit, penning opinion pieces in USA Today and the Washington Examiner, and appearing regularly across conservative talk-radio shows and cable news.

The majority of Whitaker’s media appearances focused on the promotion of one argument: Liberals in government are working to undermine Americans in a variety of troubling and unproven ways. And no one is a bigger threat than Mueller.

Before joining the DOJ, Whitaker was one of the biggest critics of Mueller’s probe, dubbing it “political” and criticizing its mere existence in numerous media appearances.

During interviews with right-wing radio hosts over the last two years, Whitaker admonished Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for appointing Muller last year, characterizing the probe as a drain on department resources, and suggesting the special counsel’s allies were leaking information designed to make him “look productive and on top of things.”

He expressed sympathy for former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty as part of Mueller’s investigation, and in one interview last year, Whitaker said that “the real Russian ties were with Hillary Clinton.”

Prior to becoming a legal pundit, Whitaker worked as a U.S. Attorney in the George W. Bush administration. After that, he ran a series of businesses and an unsuccessful primary bid in 2014 for the Iowa Senate seat. Whitaker was also on the advisory board of a patent company that ripped off its customers for millions of dollars.

When he became the head of FACT in 2014, his media presence truly began to grow. Whitaker used that post to rack up countless talk radio hits across the country attacking Democrats. But while FACT billed itself as a nonpartisan watchdog, it served as a way to launder partisan opposition research to the public.

In 2016, according to public records, Whitaker helmed the group. The company paid $180,000 that year to America Rising LLC, an opposition research firm closely aligned with the Republican Party.

In press releases reviewed by The Daily Beast, America Rising touted FACT as a non-partisan government watchdog and highlighted Whitaker’s political commentary criticizing Democrats. A person familiar with the FACT/America Rising arrangement told The Daily Beast that on some occasions, America Rising’s opposition researchers would share material targeting Democratic candidates with FACT.

FACT would then file ethics complaints based on that research and publicly denounce the Democrats in question. America Rising, subsequently, would promote FACT’s denunciations to reporters as evidence that the Democrats in question were facing non-partisan criticism.

FACT has also criticized some Republicans, including Reps. Mark Meadows and Robert Pittenger. Joe Pounder, who heads America Rising, declined to comment on the group’s work with FACT.

“FACT is a non-partisan ethics watchdog which holds accountable government officials from both parties, as well as associated political campaigns and organizations,” a spokesperson for FACT said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Since 2014, FACT has filed over 80 complaints, over 60 of which were filed under Mr. Whitaker’s leadership. Mr. Whitaker served as Executive Director of FACT from 2014 to 2017. During his tenure, Mr. Whitaker conducted numerous media interviews analyzing government ethics issues and investigations including his time as a paid contributor to CNN.”

In many ways, Whitaker is the textbook Trump-era political talking head.

He spent most of his interviews arguing that Hillary Clinton should have been prosecuted and that the FBI was providing “political cover” to the former secretary of state for “not releasing probably very damaging emails.”

He also criticized her political positions, calling her 2016 campaign platform a “grab-bag of failed and regurgitated liberal policies,” and lamented that “since she fell out of the public eye, it has not been as much fun” to conduct investigations into politicians.

Whitaker continued to provide Republicans with political cover after Trump won office in 2016, even pushing a conspiracy theory that suggested a Democratic House IT staffer, not Russian hackers, could have been behind the theft of Democratic emails in 2016.

Whitaker leveraged his position at FACT to draw attention to the case of Imran Awan, a former IT staffer for House Democrats who was charged with bank fraud in 2017.

Awan’s arrest drew plenty of attention from conservative media outlets, which spun elaborate theories speculating that Awan was either involved in nefarious activity with his Democratic bosses, spying on Democrats for a foreign intelligence agency, or even behind the hack of Democratic emails stolen by Russia.

Despite pressure from conservatives, the Awan case was ultimately a letdown for the right. Awan pleaded guilty only to lying on a bank fraud application and avoided a prison sentence. Prosecutors on the case even took the unusual step of saying in court documents that they had investigated the conspiracy theories alleging that Awan was behind any email leaks and found no evidence for them.

At the height of conservative interest in the Awan investigation, Whitaker and FACT called for an ethics investigation into the relationship between Awan and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), one of Awan’s employers.

In an August 2017 radio interview, Whitaker implied there could be a link between Awan and the Russian email hack that cost Wasserman Schultz her position as head of the Democratic National Committee.

“Whether it’s related and part of a bigger theme, that’s what we have to see,” Whitaker said.

In the same interview, Whitaker complained that the Awan case wasn’t getting as much attention from the media as the investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia.

“If it was Russia and Trump, there’d be a 24-hour news vigil,” Whitaker said.

[The Daily Beast]

Senate confirms climate skeptic to head DOJ environment office

The Senate voted Thursday to confirm a climate change skeptic and former industry attorney to lead the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) environment division.

Lawmakers voted 52 to 45 to confirm Jeffrey Bossert Clark to be the assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), both running for reelection GOP states, joined all Republicans present in voting to confirm Clark.

Clark is and attorney at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, where he has represented numerous industry clients, including oil giant BP in its efforts to fight certain claims from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and spill, and the Chamber of Commerce. He’s said climate change science is “contestable.”

“Jeff Clark is one of the leading environmental litigators in the country, and has been counsel in many of the most significant environmental and natural resource cases of the past two decades, both here at the Department of Justice and in private practice,” Attorney General Jeff Sessionssaid in a statement welcoming Clark to the department.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said before the Thursday vote that Clark is imminently qualified for the position.
“Mr. Clark’s legal colleagues describe him as one of the most capable lawyers with whom they’ve ever worked, and no fewer than seven former assistant attorneys general for the environment and natural resources division tell the Senate that his well-rounded background and prior experience in the division make him an excellent choice for this position,” he said.
Clark’s past experience includes a stint as deputy assistant attorney general in the same DOJ division.

Democrats said Clark’s history shows he would further President Trump’s pro-industry environmental record, to the loss of the climate and public health.

“He is a favorite of the Federalist Society, having chaired that  group’s environmental law and practice group. But his nomination is  strongly opposed by groups that care about protecting the environment,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

“He is exactly the  wrong person to be in this job of enforcing regulations to protect our  environment.”

Clark’s responsibilities at the DOJ will include being the top law enforcement official in pursuing claims against polluters and companies that violate environmental laws. He’ll also be responsible for defending Trump’s aggressive deregulatory agenda against an onslaught of lawsuits.

“Jeffrey Bossert Clark’s blatant hostility toward environmental protection is good news for polluters, but awful news for the rest of us,” Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. “The guy who defended the company that caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history is not likely to aggressively go after corporate environmental outlaws.”

Trump nominated Clark to the post in June 2017, but the full Senate didn’t act on the nomination until this week.

Sessions both thanked senators for confirming Clark and criticized the length of time it took.
“He is ready to lead this division — and it should not have taken us 16 months to get him confirmed,” he said.

Clark will replace Jeffrey Wood, who has been acting assistant attorney general in the environment division since Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.

[The Hill]

Trump on Sessions: ‘I don’t have an attorney general’

US President Donald Trump has said he does not “have an attorney general” in his fiercest attack yet on Jeff Sessions.

In an interview with Hill.TV, Mr Trump renewed criticism of Mr Sessions’ decision to step aside from the inquiry into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

He also said he was unhappy with Mr Sessions’ response to immigration.

The attorney general is yet to respond to Mr Trump’s comments.

It is unusual for a sitting president to attack their attorney general and critics accuse Mr Trump of trying to meddle in the legal system.

After the president criticised Mr Sessions last month, two key Republican senators signalled that they would support Mr Trump if he were to fire Mr Sessions after the November mid-term elections.

However, other Republicans told Politico they thought this would be a bad move and said they were standing by the attorney general.

Mr Sessions has pushed back against previous criticism by Mr Trump. “While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” he said in August.

“I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action.”

[BBC News]

White House Reiterates Trump Call for Investigation of Anonymous Opinion Writer

The White House press secretary on Monday called for the Justice Department to investigate who wrote an anonymous opinion column last week that was critical of President Trump, echoing the president’s demand for such a probe.

“If that individual is in meetings where national security is discussed or other important topics, and they are attempting to undermine the executive branch, that would certainly be problematic and something that the Department of Justice should look into,” Sarah Sanders told reporters at Monday’s briefing.

Mr. Trump last week said he wanted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to launch an investigation into who in his administration penned the column in the New York Times, which was attributed only to a senior administration official and said there was a secret resistance movement at work in Mr. Trump’s administration that aims to curtail his “worst inclinations.”

The president said he was concerned the author may be involved in discussions about national security issues. “I don’t want him in those meetings,” he said.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on Monday. When Mr. Trump raised the prospect of an investigation last week, a department spokeswoman said the agency doesn’t confirm or deny investigations.

Presidents typically avoid calling for Justice Department investigations, particularly ones related to their own administrations, to avoid the perception they are interfering in department matters. Mr. Trump has done so on multiple occasions.

A parade of senior members of Mr. Trump’s administration publicly denied writing the column last week.

Ms. Sanders declined on Monday to say what crime the author of the column may have committed. “I’m not an attorney,” she said. “It’s the Department of Justice’s job to make that determination, and we’re asking them to look into it.”

Asked whether the president was aware that the column was protected under the First Amendment, Ms. Sanders said: “It’s less about that part of it, and whether or not somebody is actively trying to undermine the executive branch of the government and a duly elected president.”

She declined to say whether the White House was launching an internal search for the column’s author, whom she called “gutless.” “We’re certainly focused on things that actually matter,” she said.

[Wall Street Journal]

Trump Wants Attorney General to Investigate Source of Anonymous Times Op-Ed

President Trump said on Friday that he wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate the source of an anonymous Op-Ed piece published in The New York Times, intensifying his attack on an article that he has characterized as an act of treason.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One as he traveled to Fargo, N.D., Mr. Trump said, “I would say Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece was because I really believe it’s national security.”

Mr. Trump said he was considering action against The Times, although he did not elaborate.

The president has raged against the column since The Times published it on Wednesday afternoon. But his latest remark indicates that he wants to use the Justice Department to root out the author of the column, which described some members of the administration in a state of near-mutiny against a president some view as dangerous and untethered from reality.

“We’re going to take a look at what he had, what he gave, what he’s talking about, also where he is right now,” he said.

[New York Times]

Reality

Remember, this is very similar to the Obama administration’s treatment of Fox News report James Rosen, who the Department of Justice treated as a co-conspirator and a criminal in their investigation of leaks.

Trump attacks Jeff Sessions for not forcing the Justice Department to ignore Republican crimes

President Donald Trump on Monday publicly criticized his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for allowing Republican congressmen to be indicted for alleged criminal behavior.

“Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff…” Trump tweeted.

The president was apparently referring to Congressmen Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Chris Collins (R-NY). Hunter was charged with illegally using campaign funds to pay personal expenses while Collins was charged with taking part in an insider trading scheme.

“….The Democrats, none of whom voted for Jeff Sessions, must love him now. Same thing with Lyin’ James Comey. The Dems all hated him, wanted him out, thought he was disgusting – UNTIL I FIRED HIM! Immediately he became a wonderful man, a saint like figure in fact. Really sick!” Trump added in another tweet.

[Raw Story]

Trump again threatens to ‘get involved’ in the Justice Department

President Trump on Thursday evening again threatened to “get involved” in the Department of Justice (DOJ) “if it doesn’t straighten out.”

Trump said during a rally in support of Indiana Republican Senate candidate Mike Braun that the DOJ and the FBI “have to start doing their job and doing it right and doing it now.”

“I wanted to stay out, but if it doesn’t straighten out … I will get involved and I’ll get in there if I have to,” Trump said.

The president’s comments echoed those he made in May, when he threatened to “get involved” in a rolling dispute between conservative House Republicans and the top DOJ official overseeing the Russia probe.

Trump has frequently attacked the DOJ and Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The president’s feud with the DOJ has escalated since last week, when he said during an interview on “Fox & Friends” that Sessions “never took control of the Justice Department.”

“The Dems are very strong in the Justice Department,” Trump said. “And I put in an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions. Never took control of the Justice Department. It’s sort of an incredible thing.”

Sessions quickly fired back, saying in a statement that the DOJ “will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”

Weeks before that interview, Trump wrote on Twitter that Sessions should stop the special counsel’s investigation “right now.” Trump has repeatedly cast the investigation as a “witch hunt.”

Sessions has long drawn the ire of Trump for recusing himself from the Russia investigation a month after being installed at the DOJ last year.

The president’s attacks against Sessions have continued to fuel speculation that he could move to fire the attorney general at some point.

Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) both predicted last week that Trump will eventually fire Sessions.

Trump told Bloomberg News earlier in the day Thursday that Sessions would remain in his job until at least the November midterm elections, but declined to say whether he would keep Sessions after the elections.

The president appeared in Indiana on Thursday night in an effort to boost Braun, who is seeking to unseat Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) in November.

[The Hill]

Media

Trump asks ‘how the hell’ Bruce Ohr still works at the Justice Department

President Donald Trump on Wednesday launched another pointed attack against Bruce Ohr, the Justice Department official who has drawn intense scrutiny from Capitol Hill Republicans, asking on Twitter “how the hell” he still has a job at the DOJ.

“How the hell is Bruce Ohr still employed at the Justice Department? Disgraceful! Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted.

The message came one day after Ohr appeared behind closed doors with congressional investigators, who grilled him about the timing of his contacts with Fusion GPS, the firm that worked with former British spy Christopher Steele to create and distribute a salacious dossier about Trump’s relationship with Russia.

As a senior Justice Department staffer, Ohr passed along Steele’s information to the FBI, even after the bureau had terminated its formal relationship with Steele over media leaks.

Trump has regularly attacked Ohr on Twitter, accusing him of being emblematic of corruption at the Justice Department that he says is fueling special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

[Politico]

Trump attacks Hillary Clinton’s email server again — then ‘jokes’ maybe the Russians hacked it

President Donald Trump tweeted that China hacked Hillary Clinton’s email server, a claim that has not been verified by anyone other than right-leaning media outlets. Trump used the moment to mock the Russia hack while highlighting the story.

“Report just out: ‘China hacked Hillary Clinton’s private Email Server.’ Are they sure it wasn’t Russia (just kidding!)? What are the odds that the FBI and DOJ are right on top of this? Actually, a very big story. Much classified information!” Trump tweeted.

If sources are revealing information that China hacked Clinton’s server, it’s entirely possible that is also classified information.

[Raw Story]

Update

Even Fox News is debunking this story.

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