Donald Trump’s choice for acting attorney general has attracted criticism from Democrats and others over fears he may limit or end a probe into foreign interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
Former attorney general Jeff Sessions resigned on Wednesday at Trump’s request and was immediately replaced by his Chief of Staff, Brian Whitaker.
The move is being seen by many of Trump’s critics as a potential sign the president will seek to limit or end Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Whitaker replaces Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as the official overseeing the Mueller investigation. Sessions had recused himself from the investigation after pressure mounted due to his role in the Trump campaign.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigns at Trump’s request
In a CNN opinion piece published in 2017, Whitaker argued that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was overstepping his remit by looking too closely at Trump’s personal finances.
“The Trump Organization’s business dealings are plainly not within the scope of the investigation, nor should they be,” he wrote.
In the article, he called on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to order Mueller to limit the scope of his investigation.
“If he doesn’t, then Mueller’s investigation will eventually start to look like a political fishing expedition,” Whitaker said.
The former US attorney was described as Trump’s “eyes and ears” in the Justice Department, according to a New York Times profile of him published in September.
The same profile describes him as having an “easy chemistry” with Trump, who in turn has expressed his faith in him.
Whitaker’s LinkedIn profile describes him as a “well respected attorney and entrepreneur”, who once played tight end for the Iowa Hawkeyes college football team.
He began practising law in 1995 and was appointed a US attorney by the Department of Justice in 2004, a role in which he served for five years.
For the next eight years, he served in a number of private practices, including a four-month stint as a legal commentator for CNN in 2017, during which time he wrote the article on the Mueller probe.
In October 2017, he took up a role with the Department of Justice as Sessions’ chief of staff.
Since his name came to prominence as Trump’s choice for acting attorney general, so have his dealings with a patent company shut down by authorities and ordered to pay a $26m settlement for scamming customers, which most, if not all, have not received.
Whitaker is said to have appeared in World Patent Marketing’s advertising materials and had sent a threatening email to the customer who complained about being scammed, according to the Miami Herald.
Senior Democrats are calling on Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation over his past comments.
“Given his record of threats to undermine & weaken the Russia investigation, Matthew Whitaker should recuse himself from any involvement in Mueller’s investigation,” said Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to become House majority leader.
“Congress must take immediate action to protect the rule of law and integrity of the investigation.”
On Thursday, CNN reported that Mueller and his team have started to write their final report from the investigation.