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Acting AG Whitaker faces a new round of awkward questions

Did acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker mislead the FTC about his work with a scam operation? There's some evidence pointing in that direction.
Image: Matt Whitaker
In this April 24, 2014, file photo, then-Iowa Republican senatorial candidate and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker watches before a live televised debate in Johnston, Iowa. 

The sheer volume of controversies surrounding acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker -- who was only appointed to the job three weeks ago -- is extraordinary. New reports, each of which are deeply embarrassing to the nation's top law enforcement official, seem to pop up with alarming frequency.

Just over the last week or so, Whitaker has faced credible allegations of having violated the Hatch Act and having run a dubious child-care facility in Iowa. Today, the news went from bad to worse.

The Washington Post, pointing to Federal Trade Commission documents released in response to a public records request, reports that Whitaker not only helped lead a scam operation called World Patent Marketing, but he was well aware of complaints from defrauded customers.

Despite the complaints, Whitaker "remained an active champion of World Patent Marketing for three years -- even expressing willingness to star in national television ads promoting the firm, the records show."

A Bloomberg News report twisted the knife. [Update: See below.]

New documents released by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission suggest that acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker misled the agency's investigators as he was stepping into his role last year as Justice Department chief of staff.After several attempts to reach Whitaker about the Miami company where he was on the advisory board, the FTC investigator emailed his colleagues to relay that he finally reached Whitaker, who was willing to cooperate and asserted that he "never emailed or wrote to consumers" in his consulting role.That statement to James Evans of the FTC appears to be inaccurate.

It does, indeed. As Rachel recently noted on the show, Whitaker wrote threatening emails to the company's customers, pressing them not to complain about having been defrauded by the firm.

What we didn't know until today, however, is that Whitaker may have been less than truthful to the FTC about his actions.

Let's back up for a minute, because the details are almost hard to believe. As we recently discussed, Whitaker joined the company’s advisory board after having served as a U.S. Attorney in the Bush/Cheney administration -- a fact World Patent Marketing exploited to lure potential clients.

It wasn't long, however, before the Federal Trade Commission filed a civil suit against this World Patent Marketing, describing it as “an invention-promotion scam that has bilked thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars.” Among its alleged victims are many disabled American veterans.

Now, the company is facing possible criminal scrutiny from the FBI, all while one of the company’s top former officials is running the Justice Department.

Bloomberg News' report, meanwhile, points to internal correspondence among FTC investigators, who weren't pleased when they struggled to reach Whitaker last year, during its scrutiny of World Patent Marketing. These two paragraphs stood out for me:

[The internal messages among FTC officials] also show how shocked the FTC investigators were in October 2017 when -- in the latter stages of their investigation -- Whitaker was suddenly named chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions."You're not going to believe this," Evans, who works for the agency's Bureau of Consumer Protection, wrote on Oct. 24, 2017. "Matt Whitaker is now chief of staff to the Attorney General. Of the United States."

Well, it is awfully hard to believe.

Update: Bloomberg News has pulled its report, but it's not clear why. At this point, I'm not sure what, if anything, is wrong with the original piece, but if Bloomberg offers some kind of explanation, I'll update this post accordingly.

Second Update: Bloomberg News has overhauled its original reporting and now says it "incorrectly characterized" a recipient of one of Whitaker's emails as a disgruntled customer. The recipient was actually a former associate of World Patent Marketing's CEO, Scott Cooper.