WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker responded to a 2017 fraud query from the Federal Trade Commission by noting his new senior level position at the Justice Department and agreeing to be “very helpful,” records released on Friday show.
Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker speaks at the Joint Terrorism Task Force office in New York, New York, U.S., November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
The FTC issued a subpoena last year for Whitaker, whom the records show was aware of allegations of fraud against World Patent Marketing, seeking records related to his past relationship with the company.
In a voice mail left for an FTC attorney that was made public on Friday, Whitaker said he was unaware of the subpoena to his former law firm, explaining he was in a new job as the chief of staff to then U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
After the exchange, one FTC lawyer emailed colleagues to say: “You’re not going to believe this… Matt Whitaker is now chief of staff to the Attorney General of the United States.”
World Patent Marketing, a company accused by the government of bilking millions of dollars from consumers, admitted no fault but settled with the FTC for more than $25 million earlier this year. Whitaker was not named in that complaint.
Democrats have complained for a number of reasons about President Donald Trump’s appointment of Whitaker as acting attorney general after Sessions was forced out of the role earlier this month.
Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight Committee, said that the documents released on Friday suggested Whitaker was aware of potential fraud.
“If true, this is extremely troubling and raises serious concerns about his fitness to serve as acting Attorney General and whether he was properly vetted for this critical position,” he said in a statement.
The hundreds of pages of documents released on Friday show that the FTC struggled to get in contact with Whitaker, who earned $9,375 for being on WPM’s advisory board.
In March 2017, the FTC’s Colleen Robbins emailed two colleagues to say Matt Whitaker “has not returned any of my calls.”
The FTC, which won a preliminary injunction against the company in August, subpoenaed Whitaker on Oct. 6 but again got no response.
Whitaker, who began work as Sessions’ deputy on Oct. 4, telephoned the FTC’s James Evans on Oct. 24. Evans’ notes from that telephone call show that Whitaker denied responding to “consumers,” presumably clients of World Patent Marketing.
Evans also says in the email that Whitaker told him that any documents he had would likely be covered by attorney/client privilege.
In the call, Whitaker described his role as minimal. He said he forwarded any phone calls or emails to WPM CEO Scott Cooper and never met with anyone else on the advisory board.
The documents also show that Whitaker had been sent an angry email as early as 2016 alleging that World Patent Marketing was potentially running a scam.
“What you don’t know is how many people were scammed by him (Cooper) and how fraudulent they are and how much money they robbed from people,” said one email dated Sept. 7, 2016 from a person whose name was redacted.
Reporting by Diane Bartz and David Shepardson; Editing by Susan Thomas and Frances Kerry