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Feds look into Whitaker campaign contributions

An independent federal agency is looking into whether acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker may have violated federal law by accepting campaign contributions to his 2014 Senate campaign. CNN's Laura Jarrett reports.

Posted: Nov 23, 2018 5:17 AM
Updated: Nov 23, 2018 5:17 AM

An independent federal investigative agency is looking into whether acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker violated prohibitions on political activities by federal employees by accepting contributions to his 2014 Senate campaign earlier this year.

Last January and February, when Whitaker served as chief of staff at the Department of Justice, four individuals donated a total of $8,800 to the committee for Whitaker's unsuccessful 2014 run for a Senate seat in Iowa, according to Federal Election Commission records.

RELATED: Whitaker disclosures reveal more than $900,000 in payments from conservative group

Austin Evers, the executive director of the watchdog organization American Oversight, told CNN his group submitted a complaint to the Office of Special Counsel that argued Whitaker may have violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from accepting political contributions.

A spokesperson for the Office of Special Counsel confirmed receipt of the complaint and said a case file on the matter has been opened. The office can investigate Hatch Act complaints and recommend discipline but does not directly take disciplinary action. The office has no connection to the Justice Department special counsel's office that is overseeing Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

The Justice Department declined to comment to CNN. Whitaker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to Office of Special Counsel guidance, "penalties for Hatch Act violations range from reprimand or suspension to removal and debarment from federal employment and may include a civil fine."

Evers told CNN that questions remain about the purpose and implications of the donations to Whitaker's campaign.

"After years of being completely dormant and only after he joined Jeff Sessions' office as chief of staff, Whitaker's campaign started receiving a cluster of contributions," Evers said. "It appears to violate the black-letter law of the Hatch Act."

William Gustoff, a former law partner of Whitaker's who served as treasurer for Whitaker's Senate campaign, told CNN that neither he nor Whitaker had solicited the donations made to the campaign earlier this year.

Gustoff said the campaign committee remained open because of remaining debt. FEC records show that Whitaker loaned his campaign $50,000 in 2013, and the committee still owes about $49,000.

When asked about the individuals who made the donations, Gustoff said, "They are all active Republicans who support other candidates in the state of Iowa."

"They didn't talk to me and I didn't talk to them about it," he added.

Leon Shearer, an Iowa attorney, declined to tell CNN why he had donated $1,000 to Whitaker's 2014 Senate campaign in January. "I don't think I have to disclose that," he said.

The three other contributors could not be reached for comment.

A financial disclosure form released Tuesday showed that Whitaker was paid a total of $904,000 over 2016 and most of 2017 by The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, which received nearly all of its funding from a group called DonorsTrust, whose contributors are mostly anonymous.

Government ethics watchdogs have also raised questions about Whitaker's earlier political activity.

Internet records reviewed by CNN on Wednesday show Whitaker registered four political website domain names in 2008, when he served as the US attorney in Iowa.

The domains "iowaconservative.us," "iowaconservative.org," "iowaconservative.mobi" and "iowaconservative.info" were registered in November 2008 under Whitaker's name and home address, about a year before he resigned from his position as US attorney.

While the domain names continue to list Whitaker as a registrant, it is unclear if they ever hosted any content.

Sarah Turberville, the director of The Constitution Project at the Project on Government Oversight, said the domain registrations likely do not violate rules for federal employees engaging in political activity since there is no indication that Whitaker used them to support any campaigns, but she said they raised questions about his impartiality as a US attorney.

"There's a unique trust in the role of the United States attorney," she said. "When it comes to concerns about the perception of impartiality, this raises a lot of red flags."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 295295

Reported Deaths: 6724
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19672230
Hinds18799386
Harrison16710278
Rankin12685264
Jackson12592226
Lee9687160
Madison9457199
Jones7962146
Forrest7208136
Lauderdale6833226
Lowndes6022137
Lamar588080
Lafayette5733113
Washington5218130
Bolivar4609123
Oktibbeha441393
Panola430394
Pearl River4167130
Warren4129114
Pontotoc408869
Marshall403192
Monroe3989126
Union395374
Neshoba3807168
Lincoln3541102
Hancock347374
Leflore3375118
Sunflower318386
Tate302474
Pike300195
Scott293870
Alcorn291861
Itawamba289975
Yazoo289262
Tippah278765
Copiah277857
Coahoma277568
Simpson274878
Prentiss269758
Wayne253841
Marion252678
Leake252471
Covington248879
Grenada247377
Adams234377
George231745
Newton229652
Winston221675
Jasper213445
Tishomingo212365
Attala206569
Chickasaw201151
Holmes182270
Clay179150
Stone172429
Tallahatchie170539
Clarke169371
Calhoun157828
Smith152731
Yalobusha144836
Greene127633
Walthall124140
Noxubee122829
Montgomery122438
Perry121634
Lawrence120321
Carroll118225
Amite111533
Webster110630
Jefferson Davis101731
Tunica99023
Claiborne98429
Benton93324
Humphreys92827
Kemper90223
Quitman77114
Franklin76119
Choctaw69516
Jefferson62527
Wilkinson62426
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 493769

Reported Deaths: 9931
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson710731374
Mobile36139727
Madison32425455
Tuscaloosa24184410
Montgomery22586500
Shelby21968215
Baldwin19758283
Lee14967153
Morgan13667251
Calhoun13300286
Etowah13184319
Marshall11262209
Houston10104261
Elmore9385185
Limestone9363134
Cullman8897181
St. Clair8827223
Lauderdale8607211
DeKalb8459175
Talladega7523163
Walker6524255
Jackson6495102
Autauga627091
Blount6102127
Colbert6004118
Coffee5249102
Dale4642107
Russell404930
Franklin399177
Covington3960106
Chilton3876100
Escambia377672
Tallapoosa3588142
Clarke343650
Chambers3413110
Dallas3403141
Pike293472
Lawrence283484
Marion281995
Winston246867
Bibb245060
Geneva239970
Marengo236455
Pickens224654
Barbour211651
Hale210568
Fayette200756
Butler196866
Henry182441
Cherokee177038
Monroe166139
Randolph163740
Washington156535
Crenshaw144854
Clay144454
Macon142043
Cleburne137839
Lamar132833
Lowndes131151
Wilcox121825
Bullock116936
Conecuh106724
Perry105627
Sumter98531
Coosa88923
Greene88232
Choctaw55123
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