US President Donald Trump said on Friday that he does not "know" his newly appointed acting lawyer general in the United States, only two days after he has appointed him the highest enforcement official in the country.
With the speakers outside the White House, the president said, "I do not know Matt Whitaker," but he also said that the 49-year-old former Iowa lawyer is "highly respected" among law enforcement officials.
William Gustoff, who, together with Whitaker, set up a law firm and remains in contact with the acting attorney general, said that Trump's remark could simply mean that the two are not intimately interposed & # 39; know.
Whitaker's friends and associates say that the former Iowa football player has forged a close working relationship with Trump since joining the Department of Justice (DOJ) last fall as chief of staff at the then Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The Chief of Staff of Sessions
The relationship developed when Whitaker Sessions attended White House meetings after Whitaker joined the DOJ of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a conservative ethical watchdog that has filed complaints against democratic politicians.
How often Whitaker and Trump met, remains unclear.
Charles Larson, a former chairman of the Republican Party in Iowa, said that Whitaker has informed Trump and has done an impressive job.
The president "thinks" very much about Whitaker, Larson said.
"My comment is that Matt has a very strong relationship with the president, and this comes with conversations I've had with friends and others working in the administration," added Larson, who also served as an American ambassador to Latvia under former president. George W. Bush.
Trump's choice for Whitaker to take the helm from the Justice Department and monitor special board Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election led to a decline of congressional Democrats and even some of the leading Republicans.
On Friday, however, Trump seemed to distance himself from Whitaker, leaving the future of the Attorney General uncertain.
& # 39; I do not know Matt Whitaker & # 39;
When he told reporters in the White House before he left for Paris, Trump said: "I do not know Matt Whitaker. Matt Whitaker worked for Jeff Sessions and was always exceptionally well conceived and he still is. But I did not know Matt Whitaker. & # 39;
The President's statement contradicts what he told Fox News last month when he said, "I mean, I know Matt Whitaker," and that he is "a great guy." CNN also reported that Whitaker had brought a dozen or more to the White House once since he became Chief of Staff of Sessions and that he had a good relationship with the president.
The White House does not release a list of visitors. A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice did not respond to questions about the number of times Whitaker met and informed Trump.
& # 39; A very interim AG & # 39;
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted on Friday that a permanent substitute could soon be appointed for Whitaker, a conservative activist who is often skeptical of the Mueller probe and insisted that there was no evidence of collusion between the campaign officials of Trump and the Russians.
"I think this will be a very interim AG (Prosecutor General)," McConnell said.
Candidates for the position include Republican senator Lindsey Graham, former governor of New Jersey and adviser to Trump Chris Christie and Attorney General of Florida, Pam Bondi.
The appointment of Whitaker came Wednesday, shortly after Trump forced Sessions after months of complaining about the Attorney General's decision, just weeks before he accepted his office, to reuse himself for surveillance of the Russian probe. Trump accused the recusion for the appointment of Mueller.
Because Sessions had criticized himself, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein supervised Mueller's investigation. Now the task for Whitaker has fallen and the Democrats also demand that he must use himself again because of his earlier criticism of the Mueller research.
Whitaker was appointed under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, a 1998 law that allows the president to appoint a high official up to 210 days as acting head of an agency. But some constitutional scholars have questioned the legality of the appointment, referring to a constitutional requirement that the Attorney General must be approved by the Senate.
Brenna Bird, an attorney in Iowa who worked at Whitaker's former law firm, said that Whitaker, along with Sessions, had informed the president several times and that Whitaker had won Trump's trust.
"It is clear that the president has a lot of confidence in him (Whitaker) to lead him at the moment," Bird said. "I do not think President Trump would choose him for this job if he did not think he had put it into practice, and he is."