Matt Whitaker, the new acting attorney general, once prosecuted a gay Iowa state legislator on a rather flimsy case, leadingThe Des Moines Register to wonder if antigay bias played a role.
Other concerning details about Whitaker's past include the fact that he chaired a campaign for a virulently anti-LGBTQ politician in Iowa in 2014.
The court case was tried in 2007, when Whitaker was a U.S. attorney in Iowa. State Sen. Matt McCoy, who is gay, was accused of an extortion attempt. The key witness, Tony Vasquez, was a paid informant who had been called a pathological liar by his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor.
"The indictment accused McCoy of attempting to extort money from Vasquez's employer, Security Plus, by using his position as a lawmaker to threaten the company with economic harm," Register columnist Rekha Basu wrote in 2007; the column was just reposted by the newspaper. "But the jury believed McCoy's version, that as a consultant to Security Plus who was helping to create demand for its QuietCare product, he was due a commission of $100 for each system sold. Vasquez in court acknowledged offering the same commission to others."
Whitaker didn't personally prosecute the case - that duty went to one of his assistants - but as a U.S. attorney, he initiated the indictment process. "McCoy is a Democrat," Basu wrote. "Matthew Whitaker, the U.S. attorney who launched the case, is a Bush-appointed Republican. McCoy is openly gay. Whitaker has ties to the evangelical Christian community. McCoy's lawyers have charged that the grand-jury process resulting in an indictment against McCoy was tainted because prosecutors selectively played jurors portions of taped conversations."
The case had "all the earmarks of a politically motivated witch hunt," she noted.
After the U.S. attorney's office heard of the accusations against McCoy, staffers contacted Vasquez and paid him $2,000 to wear a wire to record conversations with the lawmaker, the Register reports. After a nine-day trial, jurors deliberated for less than two hours before acquitting McCoy.
McCoy, who was Iowa's first out legislator, went on to be reelected several times. He decided not to run for reelection to the Senate this year, but ran for the Polk County Board of Supervisors and won.
Whitaker, who became acting attorney general after Donald Trump forced Jeff Sessions to resign Wednesday, is an "archconservative" who promotes "a biblical view of justice," Jonathan Chait wrote in a column for New York Magazine's Intelligencer blog. Chait likened him to the late Roy Cohn, who assisted Sen. Joe McCarthy in seeking out communists (and targeting many people who were simply liberal) in the 1950s and was later a mentor to Trump. The president, Chait noted, has expressed a desire for an attorney general who would be his fiercely loyal Roy Cohn.
"Trump has every reason to believe that he has found his Roy Cohn in Whitaker," Chait wrote. "The archconservative new acting attorney general has run for office and appears to see his future in Republican politics. As a candidate, he publicly declared that judges should be 'people of faith' who had 'a biblical view of justice.' In practical terms, he has interpreted the biblical view of justice the way most of his fellow Christian conservatives do: a combination of stern, Old Testament punishments meted out to Democrats combined with New Testament forgiveness toward any sin by a Republican."
"Whitaker has publicly attacked the FBI for failing to indict Hillary Clinton for using a personal email," Chait continued. "He defended Donald Trump Jr.'s decision to meet with a Russian operative promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. He opposed the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russian election interference." He has also urged Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to rein in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of this matter, according to Chait.
Whitaker is unlikely to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, as Sessions did, due to the latter's contacts with Russia during the Trump campaign, The Washington Post reports. The Post also cites Whitaker's credentials as a member of the far right, including his association with the Federalist Society and other conservative groups.
The Post further notes that Whitaker chaired anti-LGBTQ politician Sam Clovis's campaign for Iowa state treasurer in 2014. Clovis was nominated by Trump last year to be an undersecretary in the Department of Agriculture. It emerged that Clovis had made many homophobic comments during various political campaigns and as a talk show host an blogger, saying that protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination would be like protecting pedophiles, for instance.
Clovis later worked in Trump's presidential campaign. He had to withdraw from consideration as undersecretary because of connections to people being investigated in the Russia probe. He has become a witness in Mueller's investigation.