President Donald Trump said he hasn’t talked to Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker about how to handle Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“I didn’t speak to Matt Whitaker about it,” Trump told reporters as he departed the White House on Friday for the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I in France.
Whitaker, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff, replaced his boss on Wednesday after Trump forced Sessions to resign. The president never forgave Sessions for recusing himself from supervising Mueller’s probe, and Whitaker has taken over responsibility for the work from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein even though he has publicly criticized the investigation.
Trump also appeared to distance himself from Whitaker after he was asked about reports that the former U.S. attorney from Iowa once sat on the board of a company shut down by the Federal Trade Commission over fraud allegations.
“I don’t know Matt Whitaker,” Trump said. “Matt Whitaker has a great reputation and that’s what I wanted. He worked for Jeff Sessions. He’s a highly respected man, especially by law enforcement, and I think he’s going to do a great job.”
Trump said in an Oct. 11 interview on Fox News that “Matt Whitaker’s a great guy. I mean, I know Matt Whitaker.”
Whitaker is a Trump loyalist and a favorite in the White House. His appointment has been criticized by Democrats and by George Conway, a Republican lawyer who is White House adviser Kellyanne Conway’s husband. Asked about an op-ed George Conway published in the New York Times this week calling Whitaker’s appointment unconstitutional, Trump referred reporters to his wife.
“You mean Mr. Kellyanne Conway,” Trump said. “He’s just trying to get publicity for himself. Why don’t you do this—why don’t you ask Kellyanne that question. She might know him better than me.”