President Trump’s new acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, has taken a lot of heat for his role with a “scam” invention-promotion company that hawked outlandish concepts like a special toilet for well-endowed men, time travel tech and the hunt for Bigfoot.
But his seat on that firm’s advisory board isn’t his only previous gig under scrutiny.
Whitaker earned $1.2 million over three years as the executive director and apparently sole employee of a shadowy conservative watchdog group that lodged a lot of complaints against Democrats, according to recently released financial disclosures. In that role, Whitaker took to radio and TV to criticize liberals and the special counsel's investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia.
The position helped raise the former Iowa U.S. attorney’s Washington profile before his installment at the top of the DOJ two weeks ago. Trump reportedly first noticed Whitaker during a CNN appearance in mid-2017.
Here’s what we know so far about Whitaker’s ties to the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, or FACT.
ONE MAN, BIG PAYDAY
Whitaker, whose previous job as a private attorney earned him $79,000 in 2012, took over FACT shortly after losing his primary bid to run for the Senate from Iowa in 2014.
As executive director of the organization, he earned $900,000 during 2016 and the first nine months of 2017 alone before joining Trump’s DOJ in October 2017, according to a financial disclosure form released Tuesday.
During that same time period, Whitaker declared $1,875 in income from World Patent Marketing, the Miami-based invention-promotion firm shuttered by a judge this spring and ordered to pay $26 million after the Federal Trade Commission labeled it a scam.
“He’s probably the least qualified person to ever be sitting in that seat, by 100 yards. It’s not even close.”
Whitaker made the most of his role as the head of FACT, appearing on more than 200 television and radio appearances from 2014 to September 2017, according to a review by the Washington Post, in appearances that “overwhelmingly focused on Democrats.”
One in particular: Hillary Clinton. Whitaker appeared in TV spots that mentioned Clinton more than 750 times, compared to 37 mentions of Republican lawmakers FACT targeted for election complaints.
Critics have charged that Whitaker’s attacks on Robert Mueller and Hillary Clinton appear to have been the main selling point for him to get the job as Trump’s attorney general.
“The only explanation you could possibly give is that he just mouthed all the things that Trump was saying,” said Nick Akerman, a former member of the Watergate prosecution team. “You can’t say the guy is qualified. He’s probably the least qualified person to ever be sitting in that seat, by 100 yards. It’s not even close.”
Founded in 2012 under a different name, FACT didn't really jump into advocacy efforts until after Whitaker took the helm in 2014.
Much about FACT’s origins remain obscure. In its initial application for tax-exempt status, the founders reportedly said the group intended to focus on the impact of environmental regulations on business.
A man listed in an IRS filing as one of the company’s directors, James Crumley, told the Post that he didn’t remember anything about FACT, or why it was established.
“I can only speculate since I didn’t even remember this group existed,” Crumley told the Post in an email.
Another member of the group’s board, Neil Corkery, has been linked to other dark-money groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a D.C.-based research organization. A notable name in that circle is the Judicial Crisis Network, which reportedly spent heavily to promote the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
FACT appears to have received practically all of its funding in recent years from a single umbrella organization called DonorsTrust, which has lately been increasingly used by conservatives to mask their donations to advocacy groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“DonorsTrust is essentially just a great way to add an extra layer of confidentiality about where the money is really coming from,” said Anna Massoglia, a researcher at CRP. “They act as a pass-through vessel to groups primarily in the conservative and libertarian space.”
In other words, it remains unclear who, or what, saw fit to pay Whitaker over $1 million to spend a lot of time bashing Clinton and Mueller on television, shortly before he became America’s top cop.
Cover: Acting United States Attorney General Matt Whitaker, center, departs following a Medal of Freedom ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)