‘I hope he loses because I want him so badly…’
(Anita Kumar and Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Washington Bureau) President Donald Trump launched a search for a new attorney general Wednesday with immediate recommendations to consider several high-profile officials, including Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and retiring Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday. Sessions had long been a target of Trump’s ire for recusing himself from oversight of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Sessions had been a campaign aide to Trump in 2016.
Trump considered Kobach, architect of one of the nation’s toughest immigration laws, for various jobs at the start of his term but some aides did not think he could be confirmed by the Senate, where Republicans hold a slim majority.
At a rally in Topeka earlier this year, Trump talked about his affection for Kobach, whom he endorsed for governor. “So a man that’s been with me from the beginning, he’s tough, he’s strong and I hated that he ran because I would have loved to have brought him into my administration, effectively loses, I’ll bring him into my administration in two seconds,” he said. “I hope he loses because I want him so badly. But don’t do that.”
Trump appointed Kobach to lead his presidential commission into voter fraud, which was eventually disbanded after states refused to turn over data.
Kobach’s campaign manager, J.R. Claeys, said Kobach, who lost his bid to become governor Tuesday, is “well-suited” to become attorney general.
“It does make complete sense,” Claeys said. “I haven’t had any discussions with him where this has come up … just knowing Kris as well as I do now, and knowing his history and knowing his relationship with the president and the trust he has from the president, I think it’s definitely a possibility.”
Bondi, who is term-limited, will be replaced by former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Ashley Moody, who was elected Tuesday. Her office declined to comment.
Trump immediately named Matthew Whitaker, who had been Sessions’ chief of staff at the Justice Department and served as U.S. attorney in Iowa, as acting attorney general.
We are pleased to announce that Matthew G. Whitaker, Chief of Staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice, will become our new Acting Attorney General of the United States. He will serve our Country well….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2018
In Whitaker, Trump gets a partisan warrior. He has been the director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a nonprofit organization that lists its mission as ethics and transparency in government.
The foundation got national attention for its efforts to stymie President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Whitaker’s foundation wrote to Harvard University, trying to pressure it to release information about then-student Garland and campus efforts to ban military recruiters during the Vietnam war.
The foundation’s most recent publicly available tax filing, covering the 2016 tax year, show Whitaker collected a salary of $402,000 for his work leading the nonprofit. The tax documents show it paid $180,150 for research conducted by America Rising LLC, a political action committee that collects opposition research on Democratic candidates. The 2015 tax return shows similar figures.
The foundation last year paid $134,119 to Creative Response Concepts, a conservative political public relations company famous for helping creating the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.
Whitaker is a graduate of the University of Iowa, where he played tight end for the Hawkeyes’ football squad from 1990 to 1992.
Other names reportedly being mentioned for the permanent position include Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Transportation Department general counsel Steven Bradbury, former Attorney General Bill Barr and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.
Retiring Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, have said they do not want the job.
(Bryan Lowry and Hunter Woodall in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.)
(c)2018 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.