Before joining the Justice Department last fall, acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker was a regular critic of the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to nearly eight hours of media appearances reviewed by The Fix, highlights of which you can watch in the video above.
While praising special counsel Robert S. Mueller III (“a good pick”), Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein (“a straight shooter”) and former FBI director James B. Comey (“the pro’s pro”), Whitaker simultaneously undermined two central parts of the Russia probe: whether Trump associates conspired with Russia and whether President Trump obstructed justice. Whitaker did not call for Mueller’s dismissal in appearances reviewed by The Washington Post, but said it is within Trump’s authority to fire him. (“He wouldn’t and he shouldn’t, but he can.”)
In a six-month span in 2017, Whitaker regularly returned to a series of talking points: There was no collusion, collusion is not a crime, there was no obstruction of justice and there was no need to appoint a special counsel in the first place. It was this repeated skepticism of the Mueller probe that reportedly put Whitaker on Trump’s radar.
“The left is trying to sow this theory that essentially Russians interfered with the U.S. election, which has been proven false,” Whitaker said on the Chosen Generation Radio Show in March 2017. “They’re trying to suggest that essentially the Trump campaign had these deep ties into Russia, which is not true. … [and] that somehow Russia and the Trump campaign sort of conspired to influence the election. I mean, it’s crazy.”
“The only difference between this current investigation and ‘Watergate’ is ‘Watergate’ actually had evidence of real crimes being committed,” Whitaker said on CNN in June 2017. “Right now we have two acts by a president that appear to be constitutionally lawful and without more — for example, bribery or some other illegal act — I just don’t see, as we sit here today, any evidence of crimes being committed.”
In July 2017, Whitaker floated the idea of defunding the Mueller probe. In August 2017, Whitaker said it would cross a “red line” for Mueller to investigate the finances of the Trump Organization. And later that month, Whitaker said it was “ridiculous” that Rosenstein appointed Mueller, as opposed to running the Russia investigation through regular Justice Department coursework.
Whitaker, who in 2016 called for a special counsel investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server before an FBI investigation was complete, was more tepid last year about asserting wrongdoing in the Russia investigation.
“What we know publicly, there is not enough for a case,” Whitaker said last June.
By the end of the summer, Whitaker started directly citing Trump’s attacks on the probe in his appearances.
“There was an interesting comment yesterday from the president on this investigation, and that is, ‘Why don’t these folks hurry up?’” Whitaker said in August 2017. “It is not helping this administration and really not helping the federal government generally to have the president and his associates under the cloud of a federal investigation.”