Matthew Whitaker, Donald Trump’s handpicked choice for the post of acting attorney general, famously and on numerous occasions savaged Robert Mueller’s Russia collusion probe.
But the president, during an interview broadcast on Sunday, insisted rather incredibly that he had no knowledge about Whitaker’s views when he picked him for the post — a position which gives Whitaker direct authority over the Mueller investigation.
“I did not know that. I did not know he took views on the Mueller investigation, as such,” Trump told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday.
Trump, of course, has been obsessed with the Mueller probe looking at Russian efforts to affect the outcome of the 2016 election. The investigation has ensnared several Trump friends and associates, and could even implicate family members and president himself.
Whitaker in the past has made comments about starving the investigation and has criticized it as having no substance — remarks viewed by some as something of an “audition” for a high level Justice Department position in Trump’s administration.
Trump insisted to Fox News Sunday however, that he had no knowledge that Whitaker had made made derogatory statements about the probe when he made him, effectively, Mueller’s boss.
“And when you found that out?” Wallace asked Trump.
“I don’t think it had any effect. When you look at those statements, they really can be viewed either way,” he said.
Whitaker has made numerous negative comments about the Russia probe.
In July of 2017, Whitaker said during an interview with CNN, that an acting attorney general could “just reduces his budget to so low that his investigations grind to almost a halt.”
Whitaker also has said there is no public evidence of collusion or obstruction of justice by Trump or the campaign, has approved of Trump’s decision to fire James Comey from his position as FBI director, because it was “well within his power of the executive,” and said he hasn’t seen evidence that the campaign was involved in any conspiracy.
Whitaker said just last year that it was “unsophisticated” of Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and Paul Manafort to take a meeting at Trump Tower in 2016 with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who admitted to being a Russian informant this year, and Rob Goldstone, a publicist who sent an email promising “opposition research” on Hillary Clinton.
He then added, “But I don’t think there is anything that I have heard to date except wild speculation that demonstrates that anybody knew it was a foreign national, anybody knew about these connections which I still haven’t seen a real connection to the Kremlin, and really other than somebody was sold something false and took the meeting based on that false premise.”
“If you have somebody that you trust that is saying you need to meet with this individual because they have information about your opponent, you would take that meeting,” he said.
Whitaker has also said Trump was “absolutely correct,” to take issue with Mueller looking at the finances of the president’s family and Trump Organization. Whitaker also has connections to at least one person on Trump’s campaign team, Sam Clovis, who is now senior White House Adviser to the United States Department of Agriculture. Whitaker chaired the 2014 Sam Clovis campaign for Iowa treasurer. Clovis has been interviewed by Mueller’s team.
Authorities have confirmed that Clovis was the campaign supervisor who told George Papadopoulos “great work” when talking about communication with Russians trying to arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian leaders, according to ABC News.