Whitaker’s Ascent at Justice Dept. Surprised Investigators of Firm Accused of Fraud

WASHINGTON — As Federal Trade Commission lawyers investigated a Miami company accused of defrauding thousands of customers, they were stunned to learn last year about a new job for a figure in their inquiry, Matthew G. Whitaker: He had been named chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“You’re not going to believe this… Matt Whitaker is now chief of staff to the Attorney General. Of the United States,” James Evans, an F.T.C. lawyer, wrote to colleagues in an email on Oct. 24, 2017.

The emails were part of a trove of files the trade commission made public on Friday in response to Freedom of Information Act requests for documents about its investigation into the company, World Patent Marketing. Mr. Whitaker sat on its advisory board.

In early November, President Trump fired Mr. Sessions and installed Mr. Whitaker as the acting attorney general. His appointment immediately prompted outcry in part because Mr. Whitaker had sharply criticized the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference and possible ties to Trump associates, which he now oversees as the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Democrats have expressed alarm and vowed to investigate Mr. Whitaker when they take over the House of Representatives in January.

Long before most Americans had heard of Mr. Whitaker, the Federal Trade Commission had been scrutinizing his connections to World Patent Marketing. The company had promised investors lucrative patent agreements but instead brazenly ripped them off, according to the agency. Its investigation prompted a federal judge to shut down the firm in March 2017, and it was later fined nearly $26 million.

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