WASHINGTON—U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday that he has not yet spoken to the new acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, about the special counsel investigation, and he distanced himself from Whitaker by suggesting that he did not know him.
Whitaker, who now oversees the investigation, has visited the Oval Office several times and is said to have an easy chemistry with the president, according to people familiar with the relationship.
“I don’t know Matt Whitaker,” Trump told reporters as he left Washington for a weekend trip to Paris. “Matt Whitaker is a very highly respected man.”
Whitaker has publicly sided with Trump in saying that the special counsel investigation is an overreach, raising questions about what changes Whitaker could make to the special counsel’s mandate, particularly changes that might benefit Trump.
Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday after months of publicly shaming him for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Whitaker had been serving as Sessions’ chief of staff.
Putting a Trump loyalist in charge of an investigation that the president has called a hoax and a witch hunt immediately raised concerns about the future of the special counsel’s role. Whitaker has said that the special counsel investigation, led by Robert Mueller, has gone too far, and that Mueller should not be permitted to investigate the president’s finances.