RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In his new role as acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker will have oversight over a whole lot of issues, chief among them, Robert Mueller's investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russians to influence the 2016 election. It follows then that Whitaker's past, including comments he previously made about that investigation, are being closely scrutinized.
For a better understanding of the man now tapped to lead the Justice Department - at least for the time being - we are joined by Bob Haus. He's a longtime friend and colleague of Mr. Whitaker. They both worked on Rick Perry's presidential bid back in 2012. Thanks so much for being with us.
BOB HAUS: Good morning.
MARTIN: There are a lot of critics out there, as you know, saying your friend is not qualified for this job and is far too partisan. What do you say to that?
HAUS: I think they need to give him a chance to settle in, do his job. And they'll be pleasantly surprised that he's going to do his work in the highest degree of integrity and ethical nature that they'll ever see. Matt is a very smart, well-reasoned man. And he's going to do Iowa proud and the United States proud.
MARTIN: Well, let me ask you - Mr. Whitaker has been very critical of the Mueller investigation. Just as one example, in an op-ed he wrote last year for CNN, he said the following - Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing.
Basically, he argues that the scope of the investigation is far too broad, costs too much money and hasn't generated results, which is not necessarily the case. The question is, how can Mr. Whitaker oversee an investigation he has already prejudged?
HAUS: I would not say that he has prejudged it. I think that was then. He is in a position of quite a bit of additional information now and especially after becoming acting attorney general. And I think people should just allow him to do his job. Don't prejudge him, as you've noted. Let him assess the facts and move forward.
MARTIN: A coalition of Democratic state attorneys general yesterday wrote a letter urging Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel investigation. Do you think he will?
HAUS: I think Matt is a man who is going to do this job. He's going to do it very well, and he's going to do it to the highest standards of how he approaches everything in his life. And, you know, I would just encourage people to take a deep breath. The election is over. Partisanship needs to fall to the side. We need now to govern and to work with Congress and the administration and get things done.
MARTIN: Well, I want to play a clip of tape for you. You say, when it comes to his criticism of the Mueller investigation, that he has, in your words, perhaps evolved on that issue. But we do have a clip of tape of Mr. Whitaker. And this is what he had to say about the investigation.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "CHOSEN GENERATION")
MATTHEW WHITAKER: The left is trying to sow this theory that, essentially, Russians interfered with the U.S. election, which has been proven false.
MARTIN: So it's actually more than just criticizing Mueller's overstepping. He's suggesting that the entire Russia investigation is a leftist hoax.
HAUS: I don't know if I would go that far or agree with you on that point. I mean, I would just encourage your listeners - Democrats, the American public - let Matt do his job. You'll find a man who is - got a heart of a lion. You don't become a tight end with a Big Ten football team and play in the Rose Bowl if you're a shrinking violet. He's also got a mind that works like a computer. He sees both sides. He'll assess the facts. He'll take the information, and he'll make his best-reasoned decision.
MARTIN: His predecessor, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, was publicly, repeatedly maligned by President Trump when he didn't recuse - for recusing himself. Does that mean that you believe that he's ready to take that kind of withering criticism from the president?
HAUS: I think that if you know Matt, as I and a lot of other people know Matt, you will know that this is a man who has a very strong core. Again, harkening back to the '80s, you don't play tight end for the University of Iowa and take the kind of shots and hits that he took and get up and get back in the game if you're not a person that's got a very strong core. You know your purpose, and you know your job.
MARTIN: And you believe he would act independently of the man who has appointed him.
HAUS: I do think he'll act independently - absolutely. If you know Matt, you know he is a man of the highest integrity, got a very good moral compass, very grounded and very strong.
MARTIN: Bob Haus, longtime friend of Matthew Whitaker, who's been tapped to be the acting attorney general. Thank you for your time.
HAUS: Thank you.
MARTIN: And I want to note, in an earlier version of this interview, we incorrectly said that clip of Matt Whitaker was from an interview with Dana Loesch of the NRA. In fact, Whitaker was speaking to Pastor Greg Young on the "Chosen Generation" radio program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.