Will somebody please – please – tell Donald Trump who Matthew Whitaker is?
Because for the hundredth time, the President doesn’t know Matt, ok?
“Matthew G. Whitaker is a highly respected former U.S. Attorney from Iowa and he was chosen by Jeff Sessions to be his Chief of Staff”, Trump tweeted on Friday evening while en route to France, in an apparent effort to try to convince the public that he’s just now had time to go back and figure out who it is he appointed to head the Justice Department.
“I did not know Mr. Whitaker”, Trump continued, before adding the following caveat:
Likewise, as Chief, I did not know Mr. Whitaker except primarily as he traveled with A.G. Sessions. No social contact.
Despite Trump’s efforts to clear up any “confusion”, there are lingering questions. And those questions primarily stem from the following hilarious juxtaposition between an interview Trump gave on Fox News and remarks he made to reporters on Friday:
You can see why people are still confused.
Of course there are other reasons to believe that Trump might be lying when he contends that he doesn’t know Matt Whitaker. As it turns out, Matt Whitaker is on the same page with Trump when it comes to pretty much everything the President has ever said about Robert Mueller and Hillary Clinton.
In July of 2016, Matt Whitaker (who Trump doesn’t know), wrote an Op-Ed for USA Today called “I would indict Hillary Clinton.” In May of 2017, he wrote an Op-Ed for The Hill called “James Comey served faithfully, but the president made the right decision“. In June of 2017, Whitaker told WMAL radio that Trump did not obstruct justice by firing Comey. Two months later, Whitaker penned an Op-Ed for CNN called “Mueller’s investigation of Trump is going too far“.
And that’s hardly the end of it. As head of something called FACT, Matt Whitaker (the guy Trump doesn’t know), gave what appear to be dozens of interviews to TV and radio where he variously railed against the idea that Trump’s campaign had anything to do with Russia. You can amuse yourself with some clips from those interviews here.
Despite all of that, it is a complete coincidence that Trump appointed someone to replace Jeff Sessions who just happens to want to do all of the things Jeff Sessions wouldn’t do. The reason we know that’s a complete coincidence is because, again, Trump “doesn’t know Matt Whitaker”, other than maybe being on a plane with him when he was traveling with Jeff Sessions.
Well, guess what? According to an exclusive from VOX, Whitaker “privately provided advice to the president last year on how the White House might be able to pressure the Justice Department to investigate the president’s political adversaries.”
Imagine that. According to one former and one current administration official, Whitaker was playing both sides earlier this year when Trump ratcheted up demands on the DoJ to investigate a long list of political rivals including, of course, Hillary Clinton.
Both Sessions and Rod Rosenstein wanted no part of Trump’s efforts to commandeer the DoJ, but Whitaker, well, that’s a different story.
It sounds like Matt is the worst kind of weasel. “During this period of time, Whitaker was the chief of staff to Sessions, and in that role was advising Sessions and Rosenstein on how to counter the president, but according to one former and one current administration official, Whitaker was simultaneously counseling the White House on how the president and his aides might successfully pressure Sessions and Rosenstein to give in to Trump’s demands”, VOX writes, adding that while Whitaker told Sessions and Rosenstein he supported their efforts to keep the DoJ free from political influence, he sang a different song when consulting with the White House. Here’s more:
In his conversations with the president, presented himself as a vigorous supporter of Trump’s position and “committed to extract as much as he could from the Justice Department on the president’s behalf.”
One administration official with knowledge of the matter told me: “Whitaker let it be known [in the White House] that he was on a team, and that was the president’s team.”
Whitaker’s open sympathizing with Trump’s frequent complaints about the Mueller investigation resulted in an unusually close relationship between a president and a staffer of his level. The president met with Whitaker in the White House, often in the Oval Office, at least 10 times, a former senior administration official told me. On most of those occasions, Sessions was also present, but it’s unclear if that was always the case.
And it gets worse – much worse.
VOX goes on to say that Whitaker “frequently” talked to Trump and John Kelly on the phone and in some instances, there was nobody else on the line other than the President and Matt. This was apparently an end-around on Trump’s part to figure out what was going on at the DoJ or, more to the point, to discern what Sessions and Rosenstein were up to. Here’s a quote from an official who spoke to VOX:
Nobody else knew what was said on those calls except what Whitaker decided to tell others, and if he did, whether he was telling the truth. Who ever heard of a president barely speaking to his attorney general but on the phone constantly with a staff-level person?
I’ll answer that: Nobody. Nobody “ever heard of that” including, I’m sure, Donald Trump, because if you ask him, he’ll invariably insist this isn’t true.
Additionally, VOX writes that Whitaker was on board with launching an investigation into Hillary Clinton. In fact, he and Trump reportedly chatted “in private on how the White House might be able to pressure the Justice Department to name a special counsel to investigate” Clinton.
And if you doubt VOX on that, just ask Matt Whitaker’s 2016 Op-Ed linked above, where he explicitly lays out what he thinks should be done when it comes to “locking her up” – so to speak.
In case it’s not clear enough, Trump not only knows Matt Whitaker, but in fact conspired with him on any number of occasions over the past year behind the backs of Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein and while VOX’s reporting is disconcerting, it’s hardly surprising.
For now, we’ll leave you with the following clip of Rosenstein doing his best to keep up appearances last night. Do note how, at the end, he simply walks away when asked whether he’s “worried about the Mueller probe” now that it’s been passed to Whitaker.