There has been a chorus of criticism demanding that acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker recuse himself from the Mueller investigation. It’s primarily based on Whitaker’s previous statements referring to the Mueller investigation as a witch hunt and his loyal support for President Trump’s push-back on the probe. That combined with Whitaker’s previous statements on ways to starve the Mueller investigation of funding has been cited as evidence that demands he recuse himself.
However, Whitaker’s close friendship with Sam Clovis, a key witness in the Mueller probe, strongly suggests Whitaker can’t be impartial. Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, pointed to the Clovis friendship as Whitaker’s proof of bias.
“There is a blatant conflict of interest here that demands recusal … Clovis is more than just a witness,” Warner said. “He was the supervisor of the Trump Foreign Policy Advisory Committee, which included a cast of rogue characters.”
Sam Clovis of Northwest Iowa is a former conservative radio host, economics professor and Republican Senate candidate. Whitaker and Clovis developed a friendship while both ran as candidates in the 2014 Iowa senate race that Joni Ernst eventually won. Whitaker later served as Clovis’ campaign chair while Clovis ran for the Iowa state treasurer position. Their relationship continued when Clovis became Trump’s national co-chair of his presidential run.
Clovis is a witness in Mueller’s Russian collusion probe as a result of his work on the Trump campaign. He has been interviewed by the Mueller team and testified before the grand jury because he was supervising George Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos was the key figure that allegedly established contacts with the Russians. He came to the attention of the FBI after he reportedly bragged to an Australian diplomat in a British nightclub that Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.
In a recent interview in Reuters, Clovis is quoted as saying, “Whitaker is a wonderful man and a dear friend and that “Whitaker was a sounding board for him” while Clovis worked for Trump’s campaign. It is their close relationship during a time when Clovis was intimately involved in alleged contacts with the Russians that raises continuing questions. What did Clovis share with Whitaker as “his sounding board” about Russian contacts?
It was the information Papadopoulos gave to the Australians that alerted the FBI to the Russian operation. According to the New York Times, Clovis allegedly encouraged Papadopoulos to establish contacts with the Russians.
“He (Papadopoulos) continued for months to try to arrange some kind of meeting with Russian representatives, keeping senior campaign advisers abreast of his efforts. Mr. Clovis ultimately encouraged him and another foreign policy adviser to travel to Moscow, but neither went because the campaign would not cover the cost.”-NYT
Papadopoulos was eventually charged with lying to the FBI. Papadopoulos was sentenced and began serving his sentence yesterday. Clovis hasn’t been charged with anything, but there remains a cloud hanging over him. Last year Trump attempted to appoint him as chief scientist at the USDA. Clovis was forced to withdraw over the revelations of his link to Papadopoulos and the Mueller investigation
The Mueller probe could further implicate Clovis’ and Whitaker’s close friendship. That friendship compromises Whitaker’s ability to be an honest arbitrator. In addition to Senator Warner, other Democrats are voicing concern about the Clovis-Whitaker relationship.
Representative Joaquin Castro, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said, “The Clovis-Whitaker relationship is one of many conflicts of interest that explains why he should recuse himself from overseeing Mueller and his investigation”.
The next chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff, said Whitaker’s ties to Clovis “are troublesome and cause for recusal.”
Whitaker’s intimate friendship and contacts with Clovis while Clovis was directing Papadopoulos to establish contacts with the Russians should disqualify him as Attorney General. At the very least, Whitaker should recuse himself from overseeing an investigation where he served as a confidant to one of the key witnesses,
If Whitaker and Clovis are linked to either encouraging Russian contacts or protecting those that did, they will likely take a fall along with the rest of the Trump team.
by Rick Smith