Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is facing more opposition as he is now the subject of a federal investigation into potential Hatch Act violations.
As Democrats have continuously come against President Trump’s temporary appointment of Whitaker following the departure of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Office of Special Counsel confirmed that a complaint had been filed against him by the “watchdog” organization, American Oversight.
The investigation is focused on whether the former University of Iowa football player violated federal law by receiving donations at the beginning of this year for his failed 2014 Iowa Senate campaign, Fox News reported.
Federal Election Commission records indicate that a total of $8,800 was donated to Whitaker’s campaign fund while he was acting as Sessions’ chief of staff.
“After years of being completely dormant and only after he joined Jeff Sessions’ office as chief of staff, Whitaker’s campaign started receiving a cluster of contributions,” Austin Evers, the executive director of American Oversight, told CNN. “It appears to violate the black-letter law of the Hatch Act.”
The Office of Special Counsel, an independent agency not related to the Justice Department special counsel’s office, received complaints from American Oversight, a group founded by a former Obama State Department attorney, as well as from Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
“The Hatch Act places limitations on the ability of executive branch employees to participate in political activities,” Whitehouse said in a press release, according to The Hill. “On their face, the political contributions to Whitaker’s campaign fund violate the Hatch Act. Whitaker had been in his position at [the Justice Department] three months before these contributions were made to his campaign committee and should be presumed to have been advised of his responsibilities under this law.”
But the former treasurer for Whitaker’s Senate campaign, William Gustoff, noted that leftover debt was the only reason the campaign committee had stayed open, and that neither he nor Whitaker had asked for any donations, according to CNN.
Democrats have been highly critical of Whitaker, who now oversees Robert Mueller’s investigation as head of the Justice Department, and have actively worked to remove him from the position since Trump’s appointment. Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have challenged Whitaker’s appointment in court as lawmakers have been pushing to pass legislation protecting Mueller from being dismissed by the acting attorney general who has been critical of the ongoing probe.
Whitaker’s ability to remove Mueller and launch other investigations have Democrats on the move to undermine his authority.
“He has a lot of authority, starting with his authority to remove Mueller if he finds he has good cause for doing so under the relevant regulation,” University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck said, according to The Hill. “There are both hard and soft powers that the relevant regulation gives to the acting attorney general.”
And even though experts agree that Whitaker is not likely to act on removing Mueller, Democrats are also not likely to back down on opposing him.