Former Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker received $400,000 from a conservative dark money group to ask former President Donald Trump for pardons, The Daily Beast reports.
Whitaker, who replaced Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Trump’s Cabinet, joined FreedomWorks’ “American Freedom Initiative” after leaving the administration in 2019. The group says it “aims to recommend deserving individuals to the Trump administration for pardons and commutations.”
Filings show FreedomWorks, a dark money group that does not have to disclose its donors, paid Whitaker $400,000 in 2020 for “consulting fees.”
Whitaker during this time played an active role in negotiating clemency but did not register as a lobbyist and FreedomWorks never listed clemency issues on its lobbying disclosures.
Did Whitaker violate law?
Kedric Payne, a senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Center told The Daily Beast the data suggests that “extensive paid lobbying” went unreported.
“Federal law requires disclosure from those who are paid to lobby for pardons,” Payne said. “This matter raises red flags because there appears to be extensive paid lobbying, but no evidence of lobbying registration. The public has a right to full disclosure about who is lobbying our public officials.”
Paul S. Ryan of the government watchdog Common Cause said laws surrounding lobbying for pardons are “fuzzy” but a number of lobbyists disclosed that work.
“Other lobbyists tied to Trump have reported massive income lobbying the administration for pardons. Any failure by Whitaker to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars received to lobby the Trump administration warrants close scrutiny,” Ryan told The Daily Beast.
FreedomWorks came up empty:
Though Whitaker was cited as an advocate on several White House clemency announcements, it does not appear FreedomWorks scored any of their sought-after pardons.
The group’s website says it advocated for clemency for 30 people but identifies only three that received clemency.
All three clemencies came before FreedomWorks launched its initiative with Whitaker. White House records show that Whitaker advocated for all three in his personal capacity but the clemency was issued three weeks before he joined FreedomWorks.