On Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions submitted his resignation at President Trump’s request. The move had been expected, largely due to the president’s concerns over the Special Counsel investigation and anger at Sessions for having recused himself.
The new Acting Attorney General, Trump announced in a tweet, is Sessions’ former chief of staff Matthew Whitaker, a conservative Republican and former tight end for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes football team.
With Whitaker suddenly in charge of the nation’s top law enforcement agency, and poised to disrupt investigations into President Trump’s possible collusion with Russia to steal the presidential election (among other things), we need to know as much as possible about who he is and what he believes.
In 2004, Whitaker was appointed by former President George W. Bush to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. While serving as U.S. Attorney, Whitaker helped launch an extortion investigation into state senator Matt McCoy — then Iowa’s highest-ranking gay official.
But according to McCoy, the extortion charges were nothing but an excuse to target him for his gay rights advocacy in office, which included passing a school anti-bullying measure, fighting a state ban on same-sex marriage, and working to pass anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people in housing and employment. In a 2007 interview with the Advocate, McCoy said Whitaker was behind a campaign to smear him with extortion charges because he was a tireless proponent of LGBTQ rights measures, whereas Whitaker wanted to prove his conservative loyalties.
“Since coming out as an openly gay man, I have been a continuous target of groups targeting gays to advance their own agendas of intolerance and hate,” McCoy told the Advocate. “Clearly, there is significant speculation about what has motivated federal officials to take this action against me.”
Whitaker made his anti-LGBTQ views known most prominently during his 2014 run for Iowa Senate. In an interview with the conservative Christian news site Caffeinated Thoughts, then-candidate Whitaker decried President Obama’s handling of same-sex marriage — which the Supreme Court did not make legal nationwide until June 2015.
“I believe marriage is between one man and one woman,” Whitaker told Caffeinated Thoughts. “Throughout history, it’s traditionally been up to the churches and to God to define that. I don’t have an omnibus solution. Certainly, it’s affecting all sorts of parts of our country. Here in the state of Iowa, we can’t even get our elected officials to do anything about it and that’s really frustrating. It’s affecting our military. There are chaplains in the military under a lot of pressure to go against their religious beliefs. But what can I do as one freshman senator in the U.S. Senate? Give me the bills and I’ll vote for them, but the president has done significant damage all over the country. There will be an unbelievable, long-term negative impact he’s leaving.”
Whitaker also told an audience at the April 2014 U.S. Senate Family Forum (hosted by extremist homophobe and conservative pundit Erick Erickson) that he believes that federal judges should have a Biblical — specifically, New Testament — view of justice.
“And what I know is as long as they have that worldview, that they’ll be a good judge,” Whitaker said, as the Des Moines Register reported in 2014. “And if they have a secular worldview, where this is all we have here on Earth, then I’m going to be very concerned about that judge.”
At a 2014 fundraiser for the Iowa Republican Party, Whitaker said religious liberty was “under attack” by the Obama administration, and pledged to protect religious freedom — a phrase LGBTQ advocates often say is code for continuing discrimination against LGBTQ people.
The website On The Issues, which collects policy platform statements from the vast majority of candidates for elected office, lists Whitaker as against same-sex marriage. He is quoted as saying in 2013, “My faith requires me to support traditional marriage.”