Matthew Whitaker, former acting attorney general, leaves Justice Department

Acting Atty. Gen. Matthew Whitaker testifies at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Feb. 8. He has now left the Justice Department.
(Andrew Harnik / AP)
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Matthew Whitaker, the former acting attorney general whose brief appointment generated intense controversy, resigned from the Justice Department over the weekend.

Justice Department officials said Whitaker’s last day at the agency was Saturday. He had spent recent weeks working as a senior counselor in the office of the associate attorney general. He has not settled on what to do next in his legal career.

Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney in Iowa, was chief-of-staff to Jeff Sessions, President Trump’s first attorney general. Trump and Sessions had a notoriously frosty relationship after the attorney general recused himself from overseeing the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.


Trump successfully demanded Sessions’ resignation the day after the midterm elections and tapped Whitaker to take his place. The appointment was unusual because Whitaker was not a Senate-confirmed official, and his appointed was criticized by Democrats and unsuccessfully challenged in court.

The president and Whitaker had developed a rapport, and Trump has said he thought Whitaker did a good job in the role. Whitaker served in the job from Nov. 7 until he was replaced on Feb. 14 when William Barr, a former attorney and powerful figure in the Republican legal establishment, was sworn in.

Whitaker gained fame as a football player at the University of Iowa. He earned a law degree from the same university and served as one of the state’s two U.S. attorneys in the Bush administration. He came to the attention of the Trump administration in 2017 as a commentator on television and radio who was critical of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Whitaker rejected the advice of a top career Justice Department lawyer who recommended he recuse himself from overseeing the Russia probe because of the appearance of a conflict of interest related to his past statements.

At a news conference in January, Whitaker disclosed he had been fully briefed on Mueller’s investigation and that it was nearing a conclusion.