Who is acting US Attorney-General Matthew Whitaker?
WASHINGTON – The dust hasn’t settled on the results of the US midterm election yet, but President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday (Nov 7) that US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions was being replaced by his chief-of-staff, Mr Matthew Whitaker.
Mr Whitaker, a 48-year-old former football star, has been viewed favourably by the President as his “eyes and ears” in the Justice Department and has long been seen as destined for a bigger role in the Trump administration.
A Washington Post report said that he spoke directly to Mr Trump as early as October about replacing his own boss. And after a New York Times article reported that Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein had considered wearing a wire to monitor Mr Trump in the early days of his presidency, Mr Whitaker was discussed as Mr Rosenstein’s possible replacement.
According to the New York Times Times, Mr Whitaker has used what could have been a tricky assignment as a bridge between his boss, Mr Sessions, and a hostile White House to ingratiate himself with the President.
“According to two White House officials,” the New York Times reported, “Mr Trump took a liking to Mr Whitaker, who has the sort of commanding bearing that the President likes.”
Originally from Ankeny, a suburb of Des Moines in central Iowa, Mr Whitaker is the son of an elementary school teacher and a scoreboard salesman, the BBC reported.
He was a football star in high school and was eventually inducted into the Iowa High School Football Hall of Fame. He later played tight end in the Holiday Bowl and the Rose Bowl for the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 1990s.
Mr Whitaker graduated from the University of Iowa College of Law, following which he went into practice as a lawyer, serving for some time as the corporate counsel for a chain of grocery stores.
In 2002, he took his first shot at public office, when he ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer of Iowa as a Republican.
He was appointed as the US attorney for the southern district of Iowa by former president George W. Bush in 2004, serving in that position until 2009.
In 2014, he ran for the US Senate, losing the party’s nomination to Republican Senator Joni Ernst.
In his campaign, he portrayed himself as a fiscally conservative opponent of the Affordable Care Act and said his political role models were Republican senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. He sought the anti-abortion, evangelical Christian vote, saying at one candidate’s forum that he would scrutinise nominees for federal judge to ascertain whether they had a “biblical view of justice”.
Mr Whitaker built up his conservative credentials further when he served as campaign co-chair for Texas Governor Rick Perry in 2012. He also served as the executive director of the conservative watchdog group Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust in Washington DC.
In October 2017, Mr Whitaker was hired as Mr Sessions’ chief of staff. Prior to this, he was a conservative legal commentator for CNN and penned several opinion pieces.
One of his appearances on CNN in July 2017 may shed light on how he views the Russian election-meddling investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
In that appearance, Mr Whitaker said, “I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment, and that attorney-general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.”
In an opinion piece in August 2017, he penned an opinion piece where he asserted that “Mueller’s investigation of Trump is going too far”.
In the piece, Mr Whitaker argued that Mr Mueller had overstepped the boundaries of his inquiry when he began looking into the Trump family’s finances.
Mr Whitaker said this was a “red line” that Mr Mueller should not cross, warning that it would render the investigation a “witch hunt”, a term that the US President himself uses to describe the investigation.
Prior to the 2016 presidential election, Mr Whitaker penned another piece saying that he would have indicted Mrs Hillary Clinton over her use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state.
Mr Whitaker is married to a civil engineer, Marci, and has three children, the BBC reported.
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