Blog | Nov. 16, 2018

Conflicted in the US Justice Department: Why acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker should not oversee the Mueller probe

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Hours after the midterm elections, President Trump brazenly fired his Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It wasn’t a surprise – he had been talking about it for months, but no one knew how quickly after the election he would do it. 

Some speculated it was to distract from the victory of the Democrats winning back the House of Representatives; others thought he waited until after the election to not undermine Republican votes. None of that really matters, though. What matters is the acting Attorney General that he appointed – Matthew Whitaker – poses a huge risk to the justice system in the US.

Trump – a vocal critic of Sessions’ recusal from the 2016 Russia interference probe – found his perfect match in Whitaker who stated in a CNN opinion piece that the Russia investigation has gone too far. Furthermore, Whitaker’s impartiality in supervising the Russian interference probe is a major concern, as he has a tie to a witness in the investigation

Whitaker has also suggested that the Attorney General could cut the investigation’s budget and effectively bring the investigation to a halt. Despite the numerous ethical concerns, Whitaker has no intention of recusing himself.

Not only does Whitaker’s apparent pre-judgement of the Mueller probe undermine American democracy and the justice system, Whitaker also has been involved in questionable business practices  that should concern Americans. 

Whitaker once sat on the advisory board of World Patent Marketing, a failed company investigated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for carrying out a fraudulent scheme that cheated consumers out of millions of dollars. An FTC complaint alleged that World Patent Marketing had charged investors thousands of dollars to patent and market their inventions but then failed to deliver on those promises. This allegedly left many consumers with no patents, robbing them of their life savings or putting them in debt. 

If this isn’t enough of a red flag, Whitaker appeared in promotional videos for the company and court documents suggest that he used his position as a former federal prosecutor to intimidate and threaten customers of the patent company. 

World Patent Marketing entered into a settlement with the FTC that permanently bans the company from engaging in invention promotion services and required the company to pay nearly  $26 million.  The president of World Patent Marketing, Scott Cooper, paid Whitaker almost $10,000 before the company folded.

The legal troubles for World Patent Marketing don’t stop there. According to the Wall Street Journal, the FBI is currently conducting a criminal investigation of World Patent Marketing, which is a step up from the Federal Trade Commission’s past civil proceedings with the company. As interim Attorney General, Whitaker oversees the FBI. This is a major conflict of interest – as a company he was linked to is under FBI investigation. 

With the expected public outrage given the ethical concerns surrounding  Whitaker heading the Department of Justice, it’s no surprise that Trump has suddenly insisted that he does not know Whittaker. Media outlets have proven this to be false.  

In addition to his clear conflicts of interest, Whitaker is also critical of judiciary power – another reason why Trump may be fond of him. He is especially opposed to the Supreme Court’s ability to deem legislative and executive acts unconstitutional. In a Q&A during his Senate campaign, he stated that “courts are supposed to be the inferior branch of our three branches of government”. 

Oddly enough, even as a critic of the Supreme Court’s reach and power, Whitaker has also criticized the court for declining to strike down regulation in areas such as the economy and health care. Whitaker’s stance is very contradictory, and does not bode well for his credentials as the new interim Attorney General. 

Republicans and Democrats alike are skeptical on and critical of Whitaker’s appointment without Senate “advice and consent”. Democrat Neal Katyal, lawyer and acting solicitor general under President Obama, and Republican George Conway III, also a lawyer and the husband of Kellyanne Conway, explained in The New York Times that Trump’s appointment of Whitaker is unconstitutional. Yet this week the Justice Department released a statement asserting that Whitaker’s appointment is indeed constitutional. 

While assessments of whether or not the appointment is constitutional diverge – two things are certain: Whitaker’s prior involvement with World Patent Marketing are a red flag and his public comments against the Mueller probe show that he is biased against the probe. 

Whitaker must recuse himself from overseeing both the Mueller probe and the FBI investigation into World Patent Marketing. Global Witness calls on the Justice Department to ensure that ethical standards so crucial to our democracy are maintained. 


  • Delpha Carpenter

    US communications intern


  • Delpha Carpenter

    US communications intern

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