President Trump is in no rush to nominate someone to replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Until he does, Matthew Whitaker will fill the role. Many have found this concerning, not just because of Whitaker’s demonstrated opposition to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, but because he doesn’t really seem to have that much of an issue with certain forms of crime. On Friday, the Washington Post reported that the former U.S. attorney from Iowa continued to promote a controversial patent company despite knowing that it was scamming its clients, and that he later took steps to thwart an investigation into the company’s fraudulent behavior.
According to Internal Federal Trade Commission documents released Friday, Whitaker, who served on the advisory board of World Patent Marketing, was happy to cheerlead for the company for three years after beginning to personally receive complaints from customers who claimed they were being conned. The Federal Trade Commission ultimately took up the issue, accusing WPM of breaking promises to help clients patent and market their inventions. In May, a federal court ordered the company to fork over a $25 million settlement and shut down operations.
Whitaker failed to cooperate with the FTC’s investigation, claiming he didn’t have substantial knowledge of the business. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who in January will take over the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, disagrees. “These new documents suggest that Mr. Whitaker was personally aware of allegations of fraud by World Patent Marketing and its CEO at the same time he was receiving payments as a member of the Advisory Board,” Cummings told the Post. “If true, this is extremely troubling and raises serious concerns about his fitness to serve as acting Attorney General and whether he was properly vetted for this critical position.”
The records appear to contradict a statement the Justice Department released earlier this month noting that Whitaker “has said he was not aware of any fraudulent activity” and that “any stories suggesting otherwise are false.”
After Trump named Whitaker as Sessions’ temporary replacement, Cummings, along with Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Adam Schiff (D-CA), sent letters requesting information on Whitaker’s relationship with WPM. “Because Mr. Whitaker was not confirmed by the Senate, both Republican and Democratic constitutional law experts warned that his appointment was, and continues to be, unconstitutional,” the letter read. “In addition, because the Senate was not given an opportunity to properly vet Mr. Whitaker’s background, serious questions are now arising about his fitness to serve in this position of trust.”
Few would argue that Whitaker is in any way qualified to lead the Justice Department. Unfortunately for America, one of the few who would is President Trump. A New York Times report described Whitaker as Trump’s “eyes and ears” inside the Justice Department when he was serving as Sessions’ chief of staff, and the president jumped at the chance to place a perceived lapdog in charge of the Mueller investigation. It may already be paying dividends. Whitaker was informed ahead of time that Michael Cohen would on Thursday morning plead guilty to lying about Trump Tower Moscow. There’s no concrete evidence that Whitaker fed this information to Trump, although the president did rail against the investigation at length the night before, and then again the morning of, Cohen’s guilty plea.
The FTC is likely just as appalled that Whitaker is now leading the Justice Department as the rest of America. As was revealed in the documents released Friday, they couldn’t even believe he’d landed a job working for Sessions. “You’re not going to believe this,” James Evans, who works for the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, wrote in October 2017 when the agency was investigating WPM. “Matt Whitaker is now chief of staff to the Attorney General. Of the United States.”
It’s been quite a year.