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Acting A.G. Whitaker Attacked the Russia Investigation Under Direction of White House Counsel Don McGahn; scheme coordinated with Paul Manafort and encouraged by Trump

[Murray Waas]( is [reporting in *NYR Daily*]( that Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, before he joined the administration, publicly attacked the Special Counsel investigation in a campaign orchestrated and directed by White House Counsel Don McGahn, under the guidance of President Trump, and coordinated with Paul Manafort.

>The [FEC] complaint against Chalupa and the DNC [filed by Whitaker] was extraordinary for another reason: o**ne former Trump administration official and one current one told me that Whitaker made the filing only after the White House encouraged him to do so**. As a CNN legal commentator and the head of FACT, Whitaker was one of the most high-profile and outspoken critics of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. That caught the attention of President Trump. As a result, **Whitaker was interviewed by then-White House Counsel Don McGahn and a second lawyer for the president about joining Trump’s legal team. Although Whitaker did not get the job, he and White House officials discussed how Whitaker might serve the president’s interests in a private capacity. They suggested specific arguments Whitaker could make in defense of the president. They encouraged him to attack Mueller relentlessly, and they identified other possible targets for him. Among them was Alexandra Chalupa—and not long after that discussion with White House officials, Whitaker filed his complaint against her and the DNC with the FEC.**

>The senior official, fearing retaliation if he spoke publicly on the issue, told me that this “omission by Whitaker is a glaring one” and “a half-step away from being a lie by omission.” The official said that any Justice Department official, even the ones handpicked by Whitaker, would—in light of the Chalupa filing and his attacks on other political adversaries of the president at the behest of the White House—have advised that Whitaker needed to recuse himself from the special counsel’s investigation. **This official believes that Whitaker should be investigated by the Justice Department’s inspector general to determine whether Whitaker withheld crucial information from the Justice Department officials who were providing him with legal advice about whether he needed to recuse himself.** Because of the government shutdown, no Justice spokesperson was available to comment.

>With his frequent appearances on CNN in which he assailed the special counsel, Whitaker was pursuing a personal agenda: in June 2017, in a CNN green room, **Whitaker told John Q. Barrett, a professor at St. John’s Law School, “that he was flying out from Iowa to NYC to be on CNN regularly because he was hoping to be noticed as a Trump defender, and through that to get a Trump judicial appointment back in Iowa.”** In August 2017, Whitaker said on a radio show that Mueller’s appointment was “ridiculous” and “smells a little fishy.” Whitaker vowed that if he felt the special counsel’s investigation had become “a fishing expedition,” he would be “one of the ones jumping up and down” to rein him in. On another occasion, Whitaker mused on air about how senior Justice Department officials might impede the Mueller probe by simply denying Mueller necessary funding. “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,” Whitaker said. **A month later, Whitaker was invited to the White House to discuss joining the president’s legal team.**

>**During Whitaker’s discussions with White House officials about a job, the conversation more than once turned to potential avenues of attack against Mueller’s investigation.** The New York Times had recently disclosed details of the Trump Tower meeting, and Trump had led the effort to undercut the implications. **Trump himself favored using the Ukraine issue to argue that the president’s son did no worse than the Democrats had done.**

>On July 10, 2017, White House Press Secretary **Sarah Huckabee Sanders** encouraged reporters to investigate how “the Democrat National Committee coordinated opposition research directly with the Ukrainian Embassy… So if you’re looking for an example of a campaign coordinating with a foreign country or a foreign source, look no further than the DNC.” **Sebastian Gorka**, then a White House deputy assistant, appeared on CNN to reinforce the message: “Let’s compare [the Trump Tower meeting] to the DNC sending its people to the Ukrainian embassy to coordinate oppo attacks against our candidate,” he said. “If you want to see collusion, it’s in the DNC. I mean, it is up to their necks.” On July 12, **Sean Hannity** devoted the opening of his Fox News program to defending the Trump Tower meeting—in part by arguing that the Ukrainian matter was equivalent. On July 24, Senator **Chuck Grassley**, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote to the Justice Department to say he was conducting an investigation. And on July 25, **Trump** tweeted: “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign—‘quietly working to boost Clinton.’ So where is the investigation A.G. @seanhannity”

>According to people familiar with Whitaker’s discussion in the White House, **Whitaker said he would do what he could. After that initial meeting and a series of phone calls with White House Counsel Don McGahn and others, McGahn informed Whitaker that they thought it best for Whitaker and for them that they not hire him immediately. Whitaker was told that, for the time being, he was more valuable “on the outside,” continuing as a CNN legal commentator and in his position at FACT.** On August 9, Whitaker filed FACT’s complaint about the Democratic National Committee and Chalupa.

>But just before he did so, Whitaker again met with McGahn and at least one other senior White House official to talk further about the possibility of his joining the president’s legal team to defend Trump from the special counsel’s investigation. Even Whitaker could not have guessed how well his loyalty would be rewarded. He would win not a judicial nomination from the Trump administration but the post of chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions—and then succeed him by becoming the acting attorney general.

[Matthew Whitaker: The Ethical Mire of Trump’s Top Law Officer](

**Previously on Keep_Track:**

As Waas previously reported, the actions described above fit the strategy suggested by Paul Manafort and agreed to by the White House:

[In Secret Contacts With Trump Administration, Manafort Coordinated On Effort to Undermine F.B.I. and Russia Investigation](

>* First, Manafort advised the president and his political surrogates to more aggressively and directly attack the FBI and other elements of the federal law enforcement apparatus investigating his administration.

>* Second, Manafort counseled the White House to allege — albeit with no evidence to back up said charges — that the pro-Western Ukrainian government had colluded with the Democratic National Committee to try to help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 presidential election.

>* Third, in early 2017, Manafort provided the White House specific information on how Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign had sponsored research into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

**In Related News:**

* [The Special Counsel’s filing in the Manafort case confirms that Manafort was coordinating the details of a Ukraine “peace” plan with Russian operative Konstantin Kilimnik during the 2016 campaign](

* [Another Mueller filing confirms that Manafort’s former business partner Rick Gates continues to cooperate](

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