President Trump on Friday said he did not know the person he appointed as acting attorney general. He had said the opposite less than a month ago.
“Matt Whitaker — I don’t know Matt Whitaker,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn on Friday morning, two days after he tapped Whitaker to temporarily lead the Justice Department after forcing Jeff Sessions to resign.
But in an interview with “Fox & Friends” on Oct. 11, the president was asked to respond to a report in the Washington Post that he had talked to Whitaker — at the time Sessions’s chief of staff — about replacing the attorney general.
“Well, I never talk about that, but I can tell you Matt Whitaker’s a great guy,” Trump replied. “I mean, I know Matt Whitaker.”
By the White House’s interpretation of the law, Whitaker can serve for up to 210 days without needing Senate confirmation, an appointment that can be renewed. Never having gone through a Senate hearing, he is now under scrutiny for his background as a bare-knuckled Republican activist and director of a now-defunct invention-promotion company that the Federal Trade Commission said “bilked thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars.”
Trump had long expressed his disapproval of Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, leaving oversight to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Mueller’s investigation will now be overseen by Whitaker, who critics say should recuse himself too, because of his public opposition to the probe.
On Friday, Trump insisted that he never spoke to Whitaker about the Russia investigation and said the acting attorney general’s degree of direct supervision over the probe would be “up to him.”
The president also castigated CNN reporter Abby Phillip for asking if he wanted Whitaker to “rein in” the special counsel.
“What a stupid question you asked,” Trump shot back, adding: “I watch you a lot, and you ask a lot of stupid questions.”
The president has repeatedly said he doesn’t watch CNN.
Trump dismissed an op-ed by George Conway, a lawyer and husband of top aide Kellyanne Conway, who argued that Whitaker’s appointment is “unconstitutional” and “illegal.”
“You mean Mr. Kellyanne Conway?” Trump said derisively when asked about Conway’s assertion. “He’s just trying to get publicity for himself.”
Trump also complained to reporters that Mueller had not been confirmed by the U.S. Senate. But Mueller’s post, special counsel, doesn’t require Senate confirmation.
In a previous job, director of the FBI, Mueller was, in fact, confirmed by the Senate in 2001 by a nearly unanimous vote.
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