On Monday, Dahlia Lithwick and I wrote an article in Slate arguing that the Senate should not confirm William Barr, Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, merely to oust Matthew Whitaker, who is currently serving as acting attorney general. We noted that Whitaker was arguably appointed in violation of the Constitution and previously worked for a patent company that was shuttered and fined by the Federal Trade Commission for alleged fraud. We also pointed out that, as a federal prosecutor, Whitaker spearheaded an unsuccessful prosecution of Iowa’s first openly gay lawmaker, who believed Whitaker was motivated by homophobia. And we wrote that Whitaker repeatedly criticized Robert Mueller’s investigation on TV in 2017.
In response to this article, Whitaker’s wife, Marci, sent me an email on Wednesday morning. (Her email address and the phone number listed in the email footer match those listed in publicly available documents, and Slate’s director of technology confirmed that the email originated from mail servers operated by her company.) Marci Whitaker, who requested that her email address and phone number not be used in an “ill manner” but did not ask for this correspondence to be considered off the record, made several noteworthy assertions about her husband’s work, the Mueller probe, and the government shutdown. (Her full email is printed at the bottom of this post.)
If World Patent Marketing Was a Scam, Whitaker Didn’t Know About It
Starting in 2014, Matthew Whitaker advised a company called World Patent Marketing, which claimed to help inventors promote their products in exchange for a hefty fee. The firm marketed odd inventions, including a “theoretical time travel commodity tied directly to the price of Bitcoin” and a “masculine toilet” for “well-endowed men.” A federal judge shut down the company in 2017 and fined it $26 million after the FTC found that it “bilked thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars.” It is currently under investigation by the FBI.
As a paid member of the company’s advisory board, Whitaker wrote an email to an exasperated customer who had complained to the Better Business Bureau. In the email, Whitaker invoked his status as “a former United States attorney” and accused the customer of “an apparent attempt at possible blackmail or extortion.” He wrote that “there could be serious civil and criminal consequences” if the customer tried to “smear World Patent Marketing’s reputation online.”
In response to Slate’s characterization of her husband’s involvement with the company, Marci Whitaker wrote:
To imply that Matt had visibility and knowledge of $25 million dollars of wrongdoing is preposterous. Would you characterize a sternly worded letter as threatening? [note: obviously, yes, you did, but really?] It was well-documented that Matt is a capable and affable person.
Whitaker Should Not Have to Recuse From the Mueller Investigation, Which Will End Soon
On several occasions in 2017, Whitaker condemned the Mueller probe on CNN. He also wrote an article asserting that Mueller’s investigation had gone too far and needed to be limited. In light of these criticisms, Justice Department ethics officials advised Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation. He declined to do so, a decision that Lithwick and I questioned in our article. In response, Marci Whitaker wrote:
It isn’t really or shouldn’t be that controversial to state that the Mueller investigation should stay within the parameters given. Particularly when that is said more than a year prior as the investigation is just beginning. Why would a person need to recuse oneself for that mild statement? If abundance of caution is the standard, anyone who ever spent 5 minutes contemplating the topic would need to do so. And by all means, assume that a person who speculated on a hypothetical scenario would then put some dark plan into motion, when by all accounts, the investigation is wrapping up and they [sic] eyes of the nation are upon them.
The Government Shutdown Has Affected the Whitakers
At the end of her email, Marci Whitaker wrote, “PS this is my work email and phone. Please do not use it in any ill manner. I like my job and I need to continue to earn a living, particularly in light of this shutdown. Thanks!” Presumably this means that Whitaker is not earning a paycheck while the government is shut down. We have asked the Department of Justice for confirmation and will update this post if we receive a response. (After sending this inquiry to the DOJ press office, I received an automated response reading, “Due to the lapse in appropriations, messages submitted through this web form may not be returned until funding is restored.”)
The Full Email
Mr. Stern –
I understand the message that Slate wants to send its readers. You hate Trump - noted. I also understand that I cannot stop people from writing what they want, if they toss in a few words like “allegedly” or “likely”. But I cannot understand the zeal in trying to destroy an individual who has done nothing to deserve this tearing down. Someone who has never had an ethics complaint. Someone who supported his family though a variety of enterprises, some more successful than others, but never sinister or shady. Are you hoping that all future appointees’ qualifications are to have sat at a desk and pushed paper around for 30 years? Is life experience, both good and bad, somehow disqualifying? Matt is a really good person and is only serving his country. He’s also going to be back in the private sector at some point. It is a small comfort to me that the people who will want to work with him in the future are, let’s hope, really unlikely readers of Slate and similar publications. I happen to like things about Slate and I’m also not a fire-breathing Republican dragon, so it does distress me somewhat to read these things. I have ignored a lot of it, because it is all innuendo and/or outright BS, but you should know this is just too much. If you have a conscience, I hope you will consider reporting in a more ethical and fair manner than this article demonstrates.
Literally none of the awful things you and your co-author say are true. There is zero evidence that Matt is homophobic and if you knew how the US Attorney’s office worked and how multiple law enforcement agencies participated in the McCoy case, you would not print that. Mr. McCoy has for years attempted to spin it this way and it has never taken hold, except perhaps, to the very negatively motivated and gullible. To imply that Matt had visibility and knowledge of $25 million dollars of wrongdoing is preposterous. Would you characterize a sternly worded letter as threatening? [note: obviously, yes, you did, but really?] It was well-documented that Matt is a capable and affable person. He was at the right hand of Sessions for over a year. But sure, imply that he got the current appointment because of something he said over a year prior before he worked for anyone. The particularly on television part – LOL. What does that even mean? Nothing, that’s what. It does sound really suspicious if you put it that way AND when you ignore that he simply was well-liked and competent. It’s not in this particular article, but the “he auditioned for the job on CNN” part of the past months’ reporting has been among the most absurdly and tragically funny part of this whole experience. Who could have imagined this turn of events? No one. Not us, that is for sure. The idea that it was some calculated plan is silly. Work through that sequence maybe, and see if it seems plausible.
It isn’t really or shouldn’t be that controversial to state that the Mueller investigation should stay within the parameters given. Particularly when that is said more than a year prior as the investigation is just beginning. Why would a person need to recuse oneself for that mild statement? If abundance of caution is the standard, anyone who ever spent 5 minutes contemplating the topic would need to do so. And by all means, assume that a person who speculated on a hypothetical scenario would then put some dark plan into motion, when by all accounts, the investigation is wrapping up and they [sic] eyes of the nation are upon them. Yeah, that’s pretty realistic. Oh, and I guess you missed that the Supreme Court decided not to take up the temporary appointment challenge. Most organizations had given up on that angle of attack quite a while ago. Kudos to your perseverance, misguided though it may be. Finally, I don’t know how you print that he is “lying” about the academic All-American thing, while yourself writing all of these untruths. It is truly bizarre. All of that has been explained, if you cared to find out.
About the only thing that I can applaud you for is having the guts to link your email address. I hope you’ll consider whether the viciousness of your reporting is warranted. Given your apparent mindset, I’m sure there are many ways for your [sic] to turn the mental cartwheels to justify this. Because Trump! It’s a simplistic ending to any discussion and absolves you of actual journalistic integrity. Because Trump! And integrity! And if he had a conscience himself he wouldn’t be there! That’s sarcasm, btw. Matt is a conscientious and thoughtful person of integrity. I feel like I could write your articles for you. They’re that clichéd.
PS this is my work email and phone. Please do not use it in any ill manner. I like my job and I need to continue to earn a living, particularly in light of this shutdown. Thanks!