Former FBI director James Comey said Monday that Acting US Attorney General Matthew Whitaker “may not be the sharpest knife in our drawer.”
During an interview with WGBH News at Boston Public Library, Comey was asked if he thought Whitaker could derail special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether President Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. In the past, Whitaker has been critical of the probe.
“I think it’s a worry, but to my mind not a serious worry,” Comey said. “The institution is too strong and he, frankly, is not strong enough to have that kind of impact.”
“He may not be the sharpest knife in our drawer, but he can see his future and knows that if he acted in an extralegal way, he would go down in history for the wrong reasons and I’m sure he doesn’t want that,” he added.
When WGBH News journalist Jared Bowen prodded Comey to elaborate on what he meant by “not strong enough,” Comey said “I don’t think he has the throw-weight both by virtue of his experience, his intellect, and his time in seat to be able to shape the institution in that way.”
Whitaker was named as a replacement to Jeff Sessions, who was forced out as attorney general earlier this month. Whitaker is seen as a Trump loyalist, and his appointment has stoked fears that he will end or curb Mueller’s investigation.
The Justice Department has said Whitaker’s designation as acting attorney general was lawful, but has sidestepped questions about whether ethics rules required Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation.
In Monday’s interview, Comey asked whether Whitaker was having “career ethics officials” in his department provide a written opinion “as to whether he should be involved in things like” the Mueller investigation.
“I sure hope he is,” Comey said. “Because that’s the only way to be a responsible leader of that institution. But I don’t know that to be the case.”
According to a recent report in The New York Times, Trump told his counsel’s office last spring that he wanted to prosecute political adversaries like Comey.
Comey said Monday he is “a little bit numb to the president’s threats and tweets because there’s nothing there. There’s nothing to investigate me for.”
“Then I stop myself because it’s wrong for me or anybody else to become numb to the president of the United States announcing that a private citizen should be prosecuted,” he added. “I say that slowly because I hope Republicans listen to it.”
Material from the Associated Press and The New York Times was used in this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.