WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker was aware of fraud allegations against an invention promotion company where he was an advisor and was slow to respond to government investigators probing it, documents released on Friday show.
World Patent Marketing was a fraud, one angry person wrote in September 2016. "What you don't know is how many people were scammed by him (Chief Executive Scott Cooper) and how fraudulent they are and how much money they robbed from people," wrote the person whose email was disclosed along with more than 300 pages of other materials released by the Federal Trade Commission.
The documents paint a picture of a company that heard from angry clients, and some of the emails or responses to them were also sent to Whitaker. It was unclear if he took any action to determine if the complaints were warranted.
Democrats have complained for several reasons about President Donald Trump's appointment of Whitaker as acting attorney general after Jeff Sessions was forced out this month.
Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight Committee, said the documents released on Friday suggested Whitaker was aware of potential fraud.
"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," he said in a statement.
World Patent Marketing, accused by the government of bilking millions of dollars from consumers, admitted no fault but settled with the FTC for more than $25 million earlier this year. Whitaker was not named in that complaint.
The hundreds of pages of documents released on Friday also show the FTC struggled to get in contact with Whitaker, who earned $9,375 for being on WPM's advisory board.
In March 2017, FTC attorney Colleen Robbins emailed two colleagues to say Matt Whitaker "has not returned any of my calls."
The FTC, which won a preliminary injunction against the company in August, subpoenaed Whitaker on Oct. 6 but again got no response.
Later that month, one FTC lawyer emailed colleagues to say: "You're not going to believe this. ... Matt Whitaker is now chief of staff to the Attorney General of the United States."
In a voicemail left for an FTC attorney that was made public on Friday, Whitaker said he was unaware of the subpoena sent to his former law firm, explaining he was in a new job as the chief of staff to then U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Whitaker began that job on Oct. 4, 2017.
"I want to be very helpful," he said in the voicemail, which was also released on Friday.
Whitaker subsequently spoke by telephone to FTC investigator James Evans on Oct. 24. Evans' notes from that telephone call show that Whitaker denied responding to "consumers," presumably clients of World Patent Marketing.
In the call, Whitaker described his role as minimal. He said he forwarded any phone calls or emails to WPM CEO Cooper and never met with anyone else on the advisory board.
Evans also says in the email that Whitaker told him that any documents he had would likely be covered by attorney/client privilege.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz and David Shepardson; Editing by Susan Thomas, Frances Kerry and Richard Chang)