Sliding Matthew Whitaker into the role of acting attorney general must have looked like the perfect move to Donald Trump. After all, the whole way that Whitaker moved from Iowa-bound has-been to America’s chief law enforcement officer was by writing anti-Mueller op-eds, heading up an anti-Mueller propaganda effort, and appearing on television to spread an anti-Mueller gospel. What better person to supervise Robert Mueller? Only … maybe there could be an issue.
In a conversation with reporters on Friday morning, Donald Trump claimed “I don’t know Whitaker” and insisted that “I didn’t speak to Matt Whitaker” about Mueller. Which is amazing, since multiple accounts had indicated that Whitaker, a scam artist and bully, had an “easy rapport” wit Trump. Months ago, the New York Times singled out Whitaker as someone who was not just “ascendant” in the Department of Justice, enjoying the support of both Trump and John Kelly, but actually Trump’s mole in the organization.
To the White House, he was an obvious choice: a confident former college football player and United States attorney whom Mr. Kelly has privately described as the West Wing’s “eyes and ears” in a department the president has long considered at war with him.
Why “former college football player” should appear on the resume of any candidate for the attorney general’s role is an open question. What’s not in question is that Trump met with Whitaker on multiple occasions, pumping him for details of what was happening at Justice and counting on him to keep watch on then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and deputy Rod Rosenstein.
He has frequently visited the Oval Office and is said to have an easy chemistry with Mr. Trump. On Monday morning, Mr. Trump himself called Mr. Whitaker, not with an explicit job offer but a reassurance that he has faith in him.
That he now says he doesn’t know the man he dropped into Justice as his personal spy could just be more of Trump’s reflexive lying—but it could also be a sign that he realizes this scheme isn’t going so well.