Matthew Whitaker: An Attack Dog With Ambition Beyond Protecting Trump

“He will serve our Country well,” the president wrote.

Within minutes, Democrats criticized Mr. Whitaker’s previous comments about the Russia inquiry and demanded that he recuse himself from overseeing it. He also came under fire for serving on the advisory board of World Patent Marketing in Miami, the company that has been accused by the government of bilking millions of dollars from customers.

Mr. Whitaker’s time as executive director of the conservative Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, which accused many Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, of legal and ethical violations also came under scrutiny. So did his legal views, including his stated belief that Marbury v. Madison, which established judicial review, was a bad ruling.

For now, Mr. Trump is standing by Mr. Whitaker — at least as a temporary solution.

“You know, it’s a shame that no matter who I put in, they go after them,” Mr. Trump said before leaving for Paris. “It’s very sad, I have to say. But he’s ‘acting.’ I think he’ll do a very good job. And we’ll see what happens.”

Mr. Whitaker’s roots run deep in Iowa, where he was born and attended high school not far from Des Moines. He accepted a scholarship and played tight end for the Iowa Hawkeyes, with whom he appeared in the 1991 Rose Bowl. Mr. Whitaker scored a couple of touchdowns during his football career, including a clever one on a field goal fake.

Mr. Whitaker did not break any records playing for the Hawkeyes, but in Iowa, college football is king. Playing for the Hawkeyes could open doors.

“By Big Ten standards, he was not an exceptional athlete,” said Don Patterson, an assistant coach during Mr. Whitaker’s time on the football team. “The things we liked about him were all those intangibles that have so much to do with winning. He’s a very disciplined person. Very hard-working. Very committed. Very bright, obviously.”

Mr. Whitaker, listed as 6 feet 4 inches tall and 240 pounds on the Hawkeyes’s 1992 roster, embraced his status as a former football player. He graduated from law school in 1995, and as a lawyer, he became involved in Republican politics.

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