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President Donald Trump forced former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign on Wednesday, replacing him with Matthew Whitaker.
The startling move came just one day after the 2018 midterm elections. Matthew Whitaker will be acting Attorney General until Trump selects a permanent replacement.
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....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2018
Sessions had famously recused himself of overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, a duty that then fell upon deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.
After his appointment, however, it is Whitaker who will assume temporary oversight.
Who is Matthew Whitaker?
Whitaker is a former attorney from Iowa, a Trump loyalist that the New York Times described as the White House’s “eyes and ears” in the Justice Department. He made a failed attempt to run for Senate in 2014.
He then served as executive director of conservative watchdog the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT). During that time he launched several attacks on former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the president’s 2016 election Democratic rival, aligning himself with Trump’s position.
In a 2017 article for The Hill, he urged an investigation into Clinton’s ties to Ukraine and, in a press release for FACT, which stopped just short of calls to “lock her up,” Whitaker wrote of the “strong case to bring against” Clinton over her the use of private email servers.
“The most disturbing aspect of Hillary Clinton’s continued blame game is that she still doesn’t think there was anything wrong with recklessly handling highly sensitive and classified information,” he wrote.
Whitaker has also publicly slammed the Mueller’s investigation, even repeating the president’s famous “witch hunt” criticism. Now, Trump has trusted him with oversight of it.
In the month before the administration announced he would be joining the Justice Department, in September 2017, Whitaker penned a CNN op-ed blasting the scope of the Mueller investigation and Rosenstein’s oversight.
“It does not take a lawyer or even a former federal prosecutor like myself to conclude that investigating Donald Trump’s finances or his family’s finances falls completely outside of the realm of his 2016 campaign and allegations that the campaign coordinated with the Russian government or anyone else,” it reads. “That goes beyond the scope of the appointment of the special counsel.”
On Twitter, Whitaker has regularly pushed critical coverage of Mueller’s probe.
Trump’s fondness for Whitaker became explicitly clear in September of this year when it was revealed he was on Trump’s shortlist for White House Counsel. His name was also one of several thrown around that month as a possible replacement deputy attorney general, amid rumors that Rosenstein was going to be fired.
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Then, last month, the Washington Post reported that Trump had chatted with Whitaker about replacing Sessions.
It’s not hard to track Whitaker’s rise to acting attorney general, but it’s interesting to note how his career promotions came his way the louder he publicly echoed the president’s own ideas.
David Gilmour is a reporter who specializes in national politics, internet culture, and technology.