Attorney General Jeff Sessions has submitted his resignation after being asked to do so by President Donald Trump. The acting attorney general will be Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, an attorney from Iowa.
Whitaker, 49, penned an op-ed in August 2017 in which he argued that Robert Mueller’s investigation of President Donald Trump was going “too far.” Trump has been sharply critical of Sessions for recusing himself in the Russia investigation, which the president has derided as a witch hunt. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has been supervising the special counsel’s probe because of Sessions’ recusal, but CNN is reporting that Whitaker will now take over that oversight role.
“Matt is a well-respected attorney and entrepreneur. Matt is the former United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. Matt was also the starting tight end for the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 1991 Rose Bowl,” Whitaker’s LinkedIn page reads.
Trump tweeted that he will name a permanent replacement for Sessions at a later date. It is not known if Whitaker is in the running for the full-time job. “We are pleased to announce that Matthew G. Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States. He will serve our Country well,” Trump tweeted. “We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well! A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date.”
Here’s what you need to know about Matt Whitaker:
1. Trump Floated the Idea of Matthew Whitaker Replacing Jeff Sessions Permanently, Reports Say
On October 10, 2018, The Washington Post reported that Trump had talked recently with Matt Whitaker “about replacing Sessions as attorney general.” The newspaper cited anonymous sources for its reporting. The newspaper added that it was not clear how serious the president was or whether he had Whitaker in mind in a permanent sense or as an acting AG. Whitaker’s name had also been floated as a possible replacement for Rod Rosenstein at DOJ if Trump fired him.
Matt Whitaker was the chief of staff to Jeff Sessions, a position to which he was named in October 2017. His LinkedIn page describes him as “chief of staff and senior counselor to the Attorney General.” He once lost a Republican primary in Iowa to Senator Joni Ernst, who released a statement praising Sessions’ choice of Whitaker as his chief of staff, calling him a “tireless advocate for the rule of law and the enforcement of our nation’s laws.”
He’s also been floated as a possible replacement for White House Counsel Don McGahn.
2. In the Op-Ed, Whitaker Argued That Mueller Should Not Look Into Trump’s Finances
The op-ed by Whitaker was published by CNN. In it, Matthew Whitaker argued that the Mueller probe was coming close to crossing a “red line.”
“Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing,” he wrote, referring to any probe of the president’s finances.
He brought up his own legal background, writing, “I can understand how a motivated prosecutor, in a broad investigation into the financial affairs of high-profile individuals, can become overzealous toward the targets of such probes — with calamitous results.”
He argued that Rod Rosenstein, who is in charge of the Russia probe because of Sessions’ recusal, should limit the inquiry or it could risk looking like a political fishing expedition.
3. Matthew Whitaker, Who Is Married With 3 Children, Played Tight End on the 1991 Rose Bowl Team for the Iowa Hawkeyes
Matthew Whitaker was a successful college football player. He was an Iowa Hawkeyes tight end and member of the 1991 Rose Bowl team, according to WHO-TV.
The television station reports that Whitaker played football at Ankeny High School and “was named to the all-state football team and later got inducted into the Iowa High School Football Hall of Fame.”
A press release bio says Matthew Whitaker “was an academic All-American football player, playing on the University of Iowa’s last Rose Bowl team in 1991…Matt will be inducted into the Iowa High School Football Hall of Fame at half time of the 4A state championship game.”
He also served as Executive Director of a conservative “ethics watchdog” group called the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT). For example, he released a statement for the group that quoted him as saying, “The revelation today that the Obama State Department has deemed some of Hillary Clinton’s emails ‘too damaging’ to release in any kind of form now removes any doubt about whether Hillary Clinton put our national security at risk for the sake of her personal privacy and pursuit of the White House. This week I called for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate this most serious breach of national security. Because the Obama administration has a clear conflict of interest, it is imperative this investigation is done by an individual independent from the administration and is required to maintain the citizen’s trust in and the integrity of the government. This call is even more urgent given today’s disturbing news.”
Whitaker is married, to Marci Whitaker, and has three children. His wife works as a civil engineer. According to her bio on the website for the Des Moines company she works for, Mc2 Inc., Marci Whitaker, “has been with Mc2, Inc. since May 2011. Marci has a B.S. civil engineering degree from the University of Iowa and worked for consulting engineering firms in Minnesota and Iowa for 18 years prior to joining Mc2. She currently holds a Professional Engineer license in Iowa. Her past design experience includes wastewater treatment design, biosolids treatment, biogas handling, odor control and disinfection. Marci is a member of WEF and is the newsletter committee chair for IAWEA. Marci is originally from Ely, Iowa.”
4. Whitaker Is a Former U.S. Attorney Who Has Appeared on CNN
Matthew Whitaker worked as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. In 2009, Whitaker “tendered his resignation” to Barack Obama after serving since 2004 in the position. He was described as a “Bush holdover” as he was chosen for the position by former President George W. Bush.
“Being United States Attorney is the greatest professional experience and honor of my life. I am very proud of what we have accomplished in this office,” Whitaker said in a press release. “We have worked very hard these almost 5 ½ years to advance the goals of the Department of Justice. We have been firmly committed to protecting our citizens from terrorist attacks, reducing gang and gun violence, protecting our children from predators, reducing the availability of meth, cocaine, and marijuana in our communities, and protecting the taxpayers through our civil division.”
The press release listed these cases:
“• United States v. Cunningham, et al, the “CIETC” case: pleas and convictions in connection with the fraud at the Central Iowa Employment Training Consortium;
• Operation Wirebreaker: a coordinated District-wide enforcement effort seeking individuals that trade child porn on peer-to-peer networks resulting in 13 individuals being charged;
• United States v. Wallenfang: conviction and sentencing of a child pornography producer from Ankeny;
• Swift & Company Immigration Enforcement: charged almost 30 individuals with Immigration and Identity Theft charges with pleas and convictions;
• United States v. Davis and Edwards: both defendants received 360 months in prison for their involvement in an arson in Iowa City that resulted in one person’s death.”
Whitaker also served as a partner at a Des Moines law firm, writing on LinkedIn that he performed, “civil litigation, business transactions and estate planning and probate. We can offer efficient and effective legal representation as well as unparalleled client service and a true commitment to obtaining the best result possible. Let us fight for you and be your voice. Offices in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.”
According to his resignation press release as U.S. Attorney, Whitaker “holds three degrees from the University of Iowa (Law, MBA and BA).”
5. Whitaker Ran for Public Office Twice & Once Said He Wanted to Be Like Rand Paul
Matt Whitaker has two previous failed bids for state office, running for state treasurer and U.S. Senate. He lost the treasurer’s race to the Democrat, 43% to 54%, in 2002. Whitaker ran as a Republican.
When he ran for U.S. Senate, Whitaker commented that he wanted to model himself after U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. He also said he wanted to be like Sen. Ted Cruz, according to The Des Moines Register.
He has served on advisory boards, including The World Patent Marketing Advisory Board.
In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission alleged, “At the Federal Trade Commission’s request, a federal court has found that the FTC is likely to prevail in its case against World Patent Marketing, an invention-promotion scheme that allegedly deceived consumers through misrepresentations about its success and the services it provided, and suppressed complaints about the company by threatening dissatisfied customers.”
As previous positions, he listed on LinkedIn that he was previously owner of Little Endeavors, principal of the Freedom Strategy Group, an Iowa-based consulting firm, director and shareholder of State Savings Bank in West Des Moines, corporate counsel for SuperValu, and director-member of the board of directors for Merit Resources. He was also an associate at other law firms.