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Legal Challenges To Matthew Whitaker's Appointment As Acting A.G. Continue To Mount

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump today submitted written answers to the special counsel investigating Russia. In a statement, the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani said the inquiry was too broad, raised serious constitutional issues and should be brought to a conclusion. The man who could end the investigation is acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. Multiple lawsuits accuse President Trump of breaking the law by appointing Whitaker without Senate confirmation.

There's also growing concern about Whitaker's past business endeavors. Rosalind Helderman has been reporting on some of those for The Washington Post, and she joins us now. Welcome.

ROSALIND HELDERMAN: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Let's start with a company you've written about called World Patent Marketing. The Federal Trade Commission investigated them for fraud. What was this company, and what was Whitaker's role?

HELDERMAN: Yeah. This was a company based in Florida that basically offered to help people turn their great ideas for inventions into patented, marketable items and then sell them. But the Federal Trade Commission concluded just within basically two years of the opening of this company that it was a fraud, that it was taking people's money and not actually producing inventions.

Matthew Whitaker served on the advisory board of this company. He was paid about $10,000. The Department of Justice has said he was not aware of the fraud, but we've now got a number of instances where complaints were placed in places where he would have seen them. So he at least knew that there were these complaints the company was a fraud.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Whitaker and his allies have said that he had a kind of hands-off role in the company, but there's at least one video online of him hawking a product on the company's behalf. This was a hot tub that he was promoting in 2015. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

MATTHEW WHITAKER: It's a unique design that's going to help lots of people that have mobility issues get in and use their hot tub in a safe manner.

SHAPIRO: So the FTC investigated this company. Where did Whitaker end up in that investigation?

HELDERMAN: Yeah. We understand - our reporting is that they were quite interested in speaking with Mr. Whitaker. In fact, at one point, he received a subpoena for documents related to his communications with the firm, but he told the FTC he was too busy to respond to that subpoena because he was moving to Washington to become Jeff Sessions' chief of staff. That's not usually the way subpoenas work. But in this instance, they ended up settling the case, and it kind of faded before he had to respond.

SHAPIRO: Another recent chapter of his past - Whitaker became the owner of an investment company in Iowa a few years ago, and the Associated Press reports that in 2016, he walked away from a taxpayer-subsidized project to rehab an apartment complex in Des Moines, defaulted on a loan. What went wrong there?

HELDERMAN: Well, he has said that it was a general contractor problem. Basically he got this loan to rehab an apartment building. And it would have been largely forgiven had he turned it into affordable housing. Instead, he basically, the city says, did nothing on the project but then turned around and sold. Someone else did rehab the building, but unfortunately it's now not affordable housing.

SHAPIRO: This is a man who is, for the time being, the top federal law enforcement official in the country. What else stands out to you about his background?

HELDERMAN: Yeah. I mean, basically he has a very unusual background for someone who is going to become attorney general. He did serve as U.S. attorney in Iowa, but before that time, he had a kind of low-level law practice. And after that time, his prime sort of recommendation for the job was that he served as the head of a nonprofit organization that kind of took on Democrats and sort of acted as a watchdog but primarily on behalf of conservative causes. The Washington Post is reporting just this afternoon that he was paid $1.2 million to head that nonprofit over just three years.

SHAPIRO: That's Rosalind Helderman of The Washington Post speaking about the acting attorney general. Thank you so much.

HELDERMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.