When President Donald Trump accepted the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions the day after the midterm elections and promptly named Sessions’ Chief of Staff Matt Whitaker to serve temporarily as an unconfirmed acting attorney general, Democrats wasted no time in launching a full-on assault against the new pick.
Some have suggested that Whitaker is too partisan to head the Department of Justice. Other Democrat activists have also dug up “evidence” to prompt a federal inquiry into possible Hatch Act violations by Whitaker.
The federal Office of Special Counsel — a completely separate entity than the Robert Mueller special counsel probe investigating alleged Russian election interference — is looking into whether fairly recent contributions into an old campaign fund for Whitaker violated the Hatch Act, which restricts certain political activities for federal employees.
Hatch Act violations?
Primarily at issue for the Office of Special Counsel investigation are four donations totaling about $8,800, made in early 2018 to the old 2014 campaign fund that still remained following Whitaker’s unsuccessful bid for a Senate seat from Iowa.
Liberal-leaning watchdog group American Oversight filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel alleging Hatch Act violations in relation to those recent donations. Though the office has confirmed that it will look into the matter, it is noteworthy that the office can only recommend disciplinary action to the Department of Justice — now headed by Whitaker himself — and not take any such actions on its own.
Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, told CNN, “After years of being completely dormant and only after he joined Jeff Sessions’ office as chief of staff, Whitaker’s campaign started receiving a cluster of contributions. It appears to violate the black-letter law of the Hatch Act.”
CNN tracked down the former treasurer of Whitaker’s failed Senate campaign, former Whitaker law partner William Gustoff, who said the recent donations had not been solicited by him or Whitaker, explained that the 2014 campaign fund had remained active in order to pay back Whitaker for funds he loaned his own campaign, and noted that he’d had no contact with any of the donors.
Partisan political activities
Other separate issues that Whitaker’s opponents hope to use against him include the $900,000 in compensation he received in 2016-2017 from a non-profit group known as The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust.
Another issue is Whitaker’s prior political activities — as far back as 2008, when he was a U.S. Attorney in Iowa — such as registering, but not using, political website domain names, which could call into question his impartiality and level of partisanship.
Along those lines, Whitaker has also faced withering criticism from Democrats for opinionated commentary he delivered as a civilian in recent years with regard to the alleged crimes of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the need to limit the scope of the Mueller investigation.
Those last two reasons — a stated desire to see Clinton prosecuted and Mueller reined in — are what is really at issue here with Whitaker’s critics, as they fear he will proceed with prosecution against Clinton — as well as others in her orbit — and either undermine or completely end the Mueller probe.
The allegations of Hatch Act violations and prior partisan activity are merely a smokescreen and an attempt to discredit Whitaker in a nakedly partisan bid to protect Clinton and Mueller, as if past attorney generals weren’t totally partisan themselves, such as Eric Holder or Loretta Lynch.
Whether that effort succeeds at knocking Whitaker out of DOJ action remains to be seen.