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Acting attorney general faces awkward questions about his recent income

Matt Whitaker received $1.2 million over the course of a few years from a dubious non-profit. Where'd all that money come from?
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. 

As problematic as Donald Trump's appointment of Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general was two weeks ago, it's become progressively more bizarre practically every day since.

The Washington Post moved the ball forward overnight, reporting on the Republican lawyer's principal source of income in the years before his arrival in D.C.

In the three years after he arrived in Washington in 2014, Matthew G. Whitaker received more than $1.2 million as the leader of a charity that reported having no other employees, some of the best pay of his career.The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust described itself as a new watchdog nonprofit dedicated to exposing unethical conduct by public officials. For Whitaker, it became a lucrative steppingstone in a swift rise from a modest law practice in Iowa to the nation's top law enforcement job. As FACT's president, he regularly appeared on radio and television, often to skewer liberals.

If you've never heard of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, there's a good reason for that: it's maintained a low profile. One former FACT board member told the Post that the tax-exempt group, which changed its name several times and at one point listed its address as a UPS Store in Virginia, "only existed on paper."

Marcus Owens, who oversaw the IRS's exempt-organizations division for a decade, added that in its first years, the non-profit group appears to have been a "shell charity" that "was not utilized and remained on the shelf" until Whitaker took the reins.

Nevertheless, the Republican lawyer used his FACT perch to make frequent media appearances, speaking on behalf of his "organization," and repeating conservative talking points. All the while, Whitaker was well compensated by the tax-exempt entity.

And it's this financing that's probably the most notable angle to the story: we have no idea who or what has donated to the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, which means we don't know who helped pay the acting attorney general $1.2 million.

The New York Times  reported, "The disclosure raised questions about who Mr. Whitaker's financial patrons had been before he joined the Justice Department last year and whether he might have any undisclosed conflicts of interest."

All of this, of course, is separate from the questions surrounding Whitaker's work with World Patent Marketing, which has been the subject of an FBI investigation, and which has been accused of being a "scam" operation.

In a way, Whitaker's broader plan was alarmingly successful: he became the executive director of a tax-exempt entity that paid him handsomely; he used this position to raise his media profile; and he used his appearances to condemn Democrats and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This, naturally, caught Donald Trump's attention, and led to a Justice Department position.

As of two weeks ago, despite not having been confirmed by the Senate or vetted by the White House, Whitaker is the nation's chief law enforcement official, despite being manifestly unqualified for the post.

It sure would be nice, though, to know where that $1.2 million came from.

Update: OpenSecrets reported today., "A single six-figure donor accounted for 100 percent of funding raised by a nonprofit run by acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker before he became Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff last year, new tax documents obtained by the Center for Responsive Politics reveal."