Acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker looks kind of like a comic-book villain, and according to reports from The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, he sometimes behaves like one too.
Both papers ran reports Wednesday about Whitaker threatening the publisher of the website Ripoff Report after an anonymous user accused the company World Patent Marketing Inc. of fraud. Whitaker, who served on the firm’s board until last year, reportedly called the site’s founder, Ed Magedson, after the accusations were posted in 2015. He demanded that the claims be taken down and he wasn’t nice about it.
“He threatened me, using foul language,” Magedson told the Post. “He threatened to sue and to ruin my business if I did not remove the ‘false reports.’” Speaking to the Journal, Magedson added that Whitaker said he would “have the government shut me down under some homeland security law.”
The complaints made on Ripoff Report comport with those found by the FTC, which went after World Patent Marketing last year. The company, the FTC said, was little more than an “invention-promotion scam that has bilked thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars.” It pulled off the con by telling people it would help them promote their inventions — things like a fried chicken and waffle sandwich and nursing pillow. The company took their money and then pocketed the cash.
Magedson’s isn’t the only accusation of Whitaker working as muscle for the company. The FTC obtained an email in which Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney, responded to a complaining customer with threats of “serious civil and criminal consequences” if the customer complained to the Better Business Bureau about World Patent Marketing’s scam.
The new reporting, combined with the FTC’s findings, make it increasingly hard to believe Whitaker’s claim that he was unaware of any fraudulent activity at the company while he was on its board. But the Justice Department is sticking with that. In a statement, spokesperson Kerri Kupec called Magedson a liar: “Acting attorney general Matt Whitaker has said he was not aware of any fraudulent activity. Any stories suggesting otherwise are false.”
Democrats signaled Wednesday that they intend to use their newfound majority in the House to get to the bottom of Whitaker’s role at World Patent Marketing, CNN reports:
House Democrats are kicking off their investigations into the Trump administration by probing acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker’s connections to a Florida company that was shut down by the Federal Trade Commission over what court documents called “a scam that has bilked thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars.”
The top Democrats on the House Oversight, Judiciary, Intelligence and Energy and Commerce Committees jointly sent seven letters requesting documents and briefings about Whitaker’s role on the advisory board of the company …
The FTC was itself looking into Whitaker’s time at World Patent Marketing and whether he “played a role in helping the company silence critics by threatening them with legal action,” the Post reports. But when Whitaker was subpoenaed last year, he told investigators he was too busy to comply. Before the FTC could double back with him, the firm began negotiating a settlement, letting Whitaker off the hook. At least, for now.