Donald Trump has a fascinating habit of pretending not to know members of his team the moment they run into trouble. This morning, in response to questions about his new acting attorney general – a man being dismissed as a “crackpot” in some circles – the president told reporters he doesn’t know Matthew Whitaker, either.
“Well, Matt Whitaker – I don’t know Matt Whitaker. Matt Whitaker worked for Jeff Sessions, and he was always extremely highly thought of, and he still is. But I didn’t know Matt Whitaker. He worked for Attorney General Sessions.”
I realize it’s difficult to defend the decision to make Whitaker the nation’s chief law enforcement official, but this posture is foolish, even by Trump standards.
For one thing, the president hand-picked Whitaker for the critically important post. If he doesn’t know him, why did Trump select him?
For another, there’s some evidence that Trump does know him. The New York Times reported in September that Whitaker “has frequently visited the Oval Office and is said to have an easy chemistry with Mr. Trump. On Monday morning [Sept. 24], Mr. Trump himself called Mr. Whitaker, not with an explicit job offer but a reassurance that he has faith in him.”
The same article added that West Wing officials consider Whitaker their “eyes and ears” in the Justice Department.
A few weeks later, the Washington Post reported that Trump spoke to Whitaker about replacing Sessions as attorney general. “Even as Trump has fumed about Sessions, he has seemed to take a liking to the attorney general’s chief of staff,” the article said.
In this morning’s Q&A with reporters, Trump was also asked if he’d spoken with the new acting A.G. about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russia scandal. “I didn’t speak to Matt Whitaker about it,” the president replied. “I don’t know Matt Whitaker.”
But given that he clearly does know Whitaker, why should anyone have any confidence that he didn’t speak with the acting attorney general about the ongoing investigation Whitaker is now overseeing?
This is an awfully strange thing for the president to lie about.