Whitaker out at Justice Department

Former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has left the Department of Justice.

A Justice Department spokesman told The Hill that Whitaker’s last day was Saturday but did not expand on the circumstances surrounding his departure or his plans after leaving. It is unclear where Whitaker might go, including whether he might seek another role in the Trump administration.

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Whitaker served as the chief of staff for former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump's nastiest break-ups: A look at the president's most fiery feuds Five takeaways from Barr's new powers in 'spying' probe Amash: Some of Trump's actions 'were inherently corrupt' MORE until November, when President TrumpDonald John TrumpPapadopoulos on AG's new powers: 'Trump is now on the offense' Pelosi uses Trump to her advantage Mike Pence delivers West Point commencement address MORE tapped him to lead the department temporarily following Sessions’s ouster. Sessions resigned at Trump’s request the day after the November midterm elections, after enduring months of criticism from the president over his decision to recuse himself from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump orders more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions Trump: Democrats just want Mueller to testify for a 'do-over' Graham: Mueller investigation a 'political rectal exam' MORE’s Russia investigation.

Whitaker’s departure comes less than three weeks after William Barr was confirmed as Trump’s next attorney general. Barr was widely expected to bring new blood to top leadership roles in the department, raising questions about Whitaker’s tenure.

Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney in Iowa, quickly emerged as a controversial figure as a result of his past criticisms of Mueller’s investigation, which he began overseeing when he took the reins at the Justice Department. Democrats and other Trump critics feared that Whitaker would take steps to impede Mueller’s probe. 

Whitaker endured a contentious appearance before the House Judiciary Committee last month, during which he was grilled on the Mueller investigation and his communications with Trump. Whitaker insisted he did not interfere with the investigation and that Trump did not ask him to make commitments or promises with respect to Mueller’s probe or other investigations. But he angered Democrats by refusing to directly answer several inquiries during the public testimony. 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said last week that Whitaker would return to clarify his testimony before the committee voluntarily, after alleging that his answers were “unsatisfactory, incomplete or contradicted by other evidence.”

Since Whitaker’s testimony, The New York Times reported that Trump at one point asked Whitaker whether the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman could be put in charge of an investigation there related to campaign finance violations stemming from a scheme to pay off women who alleged affairs with Trump before the 2016 election. Trump has denied doing so and the Justice Department said Whitaker stood by his testimony.

Lydia Wheeler contributed.