Sunday, 19 May 2019

Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker comes home to Iowa, sticks to script


Former Iowa Hawkeye tight end Matt Whitaker sits down for an interview. The Register

Matt Whitaker returned to his former Des Moines office Wednesday morning as he continues to face questions about his appointment to oversee the Justice Department.


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The acting attorney general and Iowa native spoke in Des Moines at the Rural and Tribal Elder Justice Summit and planned to speak at the U.S. attorney’s office, which he led from 2004 to 2009.

“It’s good to be home,” Whitaker said. “This is where I played football, where I practiced law, where I prosecuted criminals as a United States Attorney, and it’s where I’m raising my family.”

Whitaker hewed to the script in his prepared remarks, addressing ways for law enforcement to collaborate to prosecute elder abuse and fraud.

He commended the work of Iowa attorneys on helping elders — his former colleagues, he noted, from when he served as U.S. Attorney for Iowa’s southern district — and talked about the actions his department took to help seniors.

“Iowa shaped my values,” Whitaker said. “One of those Iowa values is that we respect our elders. … But criminals can try to take it all away with one phone call, one letter, or even one email.”

He referenced a local case of a Windsor Heights man who was convicted of seven counts of mail fraud for selling fraudulent life insurance policies and other investments to elderly Iowans as a way law enforcement and justice departments can stop elder abuse.

The best way to stop crimes like this? Supporting law enforcement in rural America, Whitaker said.

“The Department of Justice has their backs,” he said. “As President Donald Trump has said, this administration supports state and local law enforcement 100 percent.” 

Whitaker did not answer questions from media after the event, and did not address controversy over his new position and role in the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Awash in controversy

Whitaker had been chief of staff to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions before he was suddenly promoted by Trump last week to replace his old boss.

Since then, he’s faced criticism from Democrats and some Republicans about his business dealings, the legality of his appointment and his own comments that were critical of the Mueller investigation.

He had said he’ll consult with the Justice Department’s ethics officials to determine whether to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation. 

The Iowa Democratic Party is calling on Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, both Republicans, to oppose Whitaker’s oversight of the investigation.

“Iowa Republicans need to find their spines and stand up for our democracy,” Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price said. “Matt Whitaker’s oversight of the Mueller investigation is a threat to its integrity and the integrity of our Justice System as a whole.”

Whitaker has also faced questions about the legality of his appointment, since he did not require Senate confirmation for his most recent position as Sessions’ chief of staff.

The Justice Department Wednesday defended the appointment, asserting that Whitaker’s senior executive status at the department “unquestionably” authorized him to serve, despite his lack of Senate confirmation.

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