The Slatest

The New Acting Attorney General Was Previously a Dark Money–Funded Clinton Antagonist

Matt Whitaker at a DOJ meeting.
Then Department of Justice chief of staff Matt Whitaker participates in a roundtable event with the Joint Interagency Task Force South foreign liaison officers on Aug. 29 in Washington. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

One of President Trump’s frequent attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions was his refusal to aggressively investigate and even prosecute Hillary Clinton. With newly named acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker in charge of the Justice Department for the foreseeable future, Trump has found an experienced Clinton antagonist to be the nation’s top law enforcement officer.

Before he joined the Justice Department as Sessions’ chief of staff, Whitaker was the executive director of the innocuously named Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (yes, it also goes by the acronym FACT). The organization, founded in 2014, largely publicized what it described as ethical lapses by prominent Democrats and requested that government agencies and law enforcement investigate them—especially if they were Hillary Clinton.

The group first gained wide public notice when it filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission in early 2015 over the behavior of the Democratic data firm Catalist, which it alleged was violating election law by offering its services at too cheap rates, effectively making under-the-table campaign contributions. While this seems like an obscure bit of inside-baseball election law, Catalist’s president was longtime Clinton confidante Harold Ickes, thus putting FACT on the map as yet another conservative-movement irritant for the then-undeclared Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

The Post described FACT as “a response to watchdog[] groups on the left such as American Democracy Legal Fund and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington” and said that FACT’s initial support came from “$1 million in seed money from donors who support conservative legal causes, according to people familiar with its origins.” All Whitaker would say about his donors is that they were “some freedom-loving Americans” who didn’t live in Washington.

While not as influential as other, more established right-wing nonprofits like Judicial Watch, which filed several lawsuits against Clinton in pursuit of her State Department emails, FACT was still a minor star in the constellation (or what Clinton would call a conspiracy) of conservative political groups and media outlets that worked for years to turn a popular secretary of state into maybe the only national political figure more polarizing and less liked than Donald Trump.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, FACT’s treasurer was Neil Corkery, whose wife, Ann, was one of the founders of what’s now called the Judicial Crisis Network, one of the leading conservative nonprofits that advocates on behalf of Republican judicial nominees. The $600,000 FACT received in 2014, the Center for Responsive Politics said, came from DonorsTrust, a conservative fund that itself hides its donors and then distributes their largess.

Charles Koch, CRP said, was one of DonorsTrust’s contributors: “In other words, an organization ‘dedicated to promoting accountability, ethics, and transparency’ gets 100 percent of its funds from a group that exists mainly as a vehicle for donors to elude transparency.”

During Whitaker’s tenure at FACT, from October 2014 to September 2017, the group got the most attention for what it said about Hillary Clinton. One of its first announcements was a press release saying that the group Ready for Hillary “is building data files and warehousing staff expected to move to Clinton’s official campaign when it launches,” which would “likely draw FEC complaints due to possible federal election law violations.”

FACT then later aggressively jumped on the Clinton email bandwagon, requesting that Eric Holder get his hands on the Clinton State Department emails in March 2015.* The Clinton attacks kept on coming.

In December 2015, FACT filed a complaint with the Office of Government Ethics alleging that Clinton “gave a private company special access to the State Department based upon the company’s relationships with Secretary Clinton’s family members and donors to the Clinton Foundation.” The complaint and the allegations were then reported on by a host of conservative news outlets, including Fox News, the Washington Examiner, and the Washington Free Beacon, as well as Time. A month later the group filed a similar complaint, saying, “Clinton routinely gave preferential treatment to individuals with which she had financial ties,” and even cited an email showing that “George Soros was ‘impressed’ with the level of access he was given.” In March 2016, the group released the “Top 10 Most Ethically Challenged Hillary Emails,” along with an accompanying piece in the Daily Caller.

FACT’s activities were not strictly limited to Clinton—in September 2016, during the height of the presidential and congressional campaigns, the group called for investigations into Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh, Ohio Democrat Ted Strickland, and Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy.

Even after Trump’s inauguration, Whitaker was still going on CNN to criticize Clinton, telling the network in May 2017, “The most disturbing aspect of Hillary Clinton’s continued blame game is that she still doesn’t think there was anything wrong with recklessly handling highly sensitive and classified information, intentionally instructing her staff to do the same and then lying to the entire world about it at the United Nations of all places.”

Correction, Nov. 7, 2018: This piece originally misstated when FACT made the request to the attorney general. It was in March 2015, not February 2015.