Watchdog group American Oversight filed three complaints against Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker on Wednesday, alleging that he may have violated the Hatch Act, which restricts political activities by federal employees.
The group, founded by a former Obama State Department attorney, claims that Whitaker's recently released financial disclosure forms reveal undisclosed conflicts of interest.
“The nation’s highest law enforcement officer should be above reproach, but Acting Attorney General Whitaker’s financial disclosures raise potential concerns of both dishonesty and covert partisan conflicts of interest,” said Austin Evers, the group's executive director. “Even after days of refusing to release these forms while they underwent last minute revisions, Whitaker hasn’t been able to avoid obvious problems that demand investigation.”
Whitaker was tapped by President Donald Trump earlier this month to replace former attorney general Jeff Sessions, who was forced to resign. Whitaker previously served in the Department of Justice as Sessions' chief of staff.
Before becoming Sessions’ chief of staff, Whitaker received more than $1.2 million in salary from the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a conservative nonprofit that does not disclose its donors, dating back to 2014, according to his financial disclosure forms released on Tuesday. The Washington Post was first to report the story.
Whitaker received the majority of that salary — $904,000 — in 2016 and 2017 before he joined the government, according to his financial disclosure filings. He became Sessions' chief of staff in September 2017.
American Oversight also cited other contributions to Whitaker while he was a government employee in its complaints, such as four recent contributions to his still-active 2014 U.S. Senate campaign committee totaling $8,800. The donations, made earlier this year, were reported by The New York Times.
The group filed their complaint alleging Hatch Act violations to the Office of Special Counsel, and filed the others to the Office of Government Ethics and the Department of Justice's ethics office, alleging a failure to disclose.
"Until we get answers about Whitaker’s conflicts of interest and honesty, the public will suffer from a crisis of confidence about the rule of law under this administration," Evers, American Oversight's executive director, said in a statement.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.