Matt Whitaker, the newly minted acting Attorney General, has been friends with former Trump adviser Sam Clovis since they both ran for the Senate in 2014, losing to now-Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) in the primary.
Whitaker ran a distant fourth place in Iowa’s GOP primary in 2014, losing to eventual Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA). Clovis, a conservative local radio host, finished second. He later became Trump’s 2016 campaign co-chairman and briefly served as the White House adviser to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The primary was an unusual one where the competitors came out as friends rather than foes.
Clovis told TPM that he and Whitaker had developed a solid friendship during that campaign and that he’d used Whitaker as a sounding board during his work on Trump’s 2016 campaign. He said he was thrilled about the appointment.
“He and I are very good friends, very close friends, and I’m very happy for him. He’ll fit right into this, he’ll be a great acting Attorney General and I hope he gets the opportunity to become the Attorney General,” Clovis said. “He’d be great for this country. He’s a strong and clear-pictured conservative and I think he’d be a great supporter of the president of the United States.”
In Whitaker’s one main campaign ad from that run (he didn’t raise much money to get on TV), he took a tone not too far from outgoing Attorney General Jeff Sessions on crime, talking up his work “putting thugs and predators behind bars” as the local U.S. Attorney. But it was mostly about his play for the Iowa Hawkeyes, who went to the Rose Bowl one of the years he was on the team.
Obviously, Whitaker’s calls to limit or even end Robert Mueller’s probe of the president are a lot more important. But this is a rather curious case of worlds colliding.
Clovis at one point was interviewed by Mueller’s team. “My contact with them was brief but intense, and it appeared that they moved on” was how he described it.
Clovis left the Trump administration in May and returned to Iowa after having to withdraw as Trump’s nominee to be the USDA’s chief scientist, potentially because he was questioned by Mueller’s team. He said he and Whitaker have kept up, and regularly still text one another, as recently as within the last few weeks.
He said he thought it would be best to let the Mueller investigation conclude without any meddling, and suggested a decision to do otherwise could lead to worse political problems for the president he strongly admires.
“I think the process needs to play itself out. I really do. The Mueller investigation has been long going. The president has not interfered in this and I don’t foresee the president interfering in the conclusion of the Mueller investigation,” Clovis said. “I would be more concerned about the witch hunts that would be pursued by overzealous [Democratic] committee chairs in the House of Representatives. It would seem to me that if the Mueller investigation was brought together, people would accept the conclusion of the Mueller investigations and leave it at that.”
This story was updated at 5:00 p.m. ET to include Clovis’s comments.