WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's administration released details of acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker's past income and financial holdings that show he reported $904,000 in income from a nonprofit.
The documents were released on Tuesday after watchdog groups complained the information was months overdue. The $904,000 came from the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, where he worked as executive director from October 2014 to September 2017.
The disclosure form covered his income of $502,000 in 2017 and $402,000 in 2016, according to the group's tax forms. He also earned $252,000 from the group in 2015, according to the tax form.
Whitaker also earned $103,400 from his self-named law and consulting firm, according to the disclosure form. He listed $15,000 in consulting fees from CNN, $1,750 in consulting fees from American Trust Bank, where he served as an advisor; and $1,875 in legal fees from World Patent Marketing.
Trump named Whitaker acting attorney general after firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Nov. 7 – a day after the midterm election. Whitaker revised the filing five times after being named to the post.
Austin Evers, executive director for the advocacy group American Oversight, which called for the release of the document, said Congress should investigate the changes.
“It’s striking that Matt Whitaker revised his disclosure form five times in the weeks after he was appointed as acting Attorney General," Evers said in a statement. "Congress should demand every version of this form to find out exactly what financial details Whitaker added or removed from his disclosures before releasing them to the public.”
Whitaker previously served as chief of staff at Justice, and watchdog groups said his annual financial disclosure should have been made public in February.
He had been a private lawyer in Iowa before coming to Washington. Among the clients he represented from September 2016 to August 2017 was Mujo Becirovic, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute at least 50 kilograms of marijuana and conspiracy to distribute at least 500 grams of a mixture containing cocaine. Becirovic, 26, sentenced to 73 months in prison. He was one of 20 defendants in the Des Moines-area case.
Before becoming chief of staff, Whitaker worked as director of the nonprofit Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, whose web site said it provides accountability, ethics and transparency “by hanging a lantern over public officials who put their own interests over the interests of the public good.”
Whitaker was paid $502,000 in 2017 for work from Jan. 1 to Sept. 14, which is equivalent to an annual salary of $715,000, according to the group’s tax form. The annual figure represented a 77 percent increase from the $402,000 he was paid in 2016, according to the group’s tax form.
The group received a $1 million contribution in 2017 from a single donor whose identity is not publicly disclosed on its tax return, and who the organization declined to identify in response to questions from USA Today.
The organization’s March 2014 application for tax-exempt status told the Internal Revenue Service the purpose was “to conduct research and provide informational studies on free market concepts in relation to environmental regulations and policy.” The original name, Free Market America Educational Foundation, changed in October 2014 to Working for Rights to Express & Communication before its current name.
Notre Dame Law School Professor Lloyd Mayer, who specializes in nonprofit law, said the organization’s changes to its name and purpose just months after applying for tax-exempt status in 2014 are “a yellow flag, but not an obvious red flag.”
“It’s not unusual for groups to change their name, change their leadership, change even their purposes over time,” he said. “What is unusual is the speed at which it happened.”
American Oversight had sent a letter to the Office of Government Ethics late last week asking why the agency had not yet made Whitaker's form public.
"The secrecy is particularly unusual and disturbing," said Melanie Sloan, a senior adviser for the group. "It suggests that there might be a problem."
Ethics advocates such as Walter Shaub, former head of Office of Government Ethics, had long urged release of the financial disclosure report.
The financial disclosure forms were released as Whitaker's legitimacy is being contested on numerous fronts.
At least three federal lawsuits challenge his lack of Senate confirmation and contend that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should be the acting attorney general.
The latest was filed Monday by three Senate Democrats — Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island —who argued that Whitaker lacks the confirmation required of all Cabinet officials.
Four House Democrats who are likely to lead committees when the new Congress convenes in January have announced they would investigate Whitaker's involvement with World Patent Marketing, a company that allegedly bilked customers of millions of dollars. Whitaker served on the company's advisory board.
The lawmakers – Elijah Cummings of Maryland on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Jerrold Nadler of New York on the Judiciary Committee, Frank Pallone of New Jersey on the Energy and Commerce Committee and Adam Schiff of California on the Intelligence Committee – said "serious questions are now arising about his fitness to serve in this position of trust" after the lack of Senate confirmation.
Contributing: John Fritze