Acting AG Matthew Whitaker Discusses Drugs
Nashville Tennessean USA TODAY NETWORK - TENNESSEE
Amid mounting legal pressure on the Trump White House, acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker took a business-as-usual approach to a Tennessee visit Thursday, touting the administration’s ongoing efforts to fight the opioid epidemic.
Flanked by federal prosecutors from across the state during a brief stop in Nashville, Whitaker read through a list of statistics that highlighted the scale of the crisis. He emphasized that it was a top priority for President Donald Trump, repeating Trump’s name multipletimes during his 15-minute speech.
Whitaker did not take questions or discuss new initiatives. He did not address the national drama erupting from the Department of Justice and from special counsel Robert Mueller III, who is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
He touts opioid prosecutions
The opioid crisis is a rare area of bipartisan concern in Washington, D.C., and nationwide.
It is an especially potent issue in
Acting US Attorney General Matthew Whitaker visits Nashville on Thursday, Nov. 29. He discussed the efforts to combat the opioid crisis. LARRY MCCORMACK / THE TENNESSEAN
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Tennessee, where opioid addiction has killed more than 5,000 people since 2013. Deaths caused by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, have skyrocketed in recent years. Trump in October signed a sweeping law designed to combat the opioid crisis by hastening research into nonaddictive painkillers and curbing the flow of illegal fentanyl entering the country.
The Department of Justice previously announced Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force to target cases in rural mountainous areas. Whitaker said the Southern hub of that strike force would be based in the office for Nashville’s U.S. attorney, but he didn’t indicate if that would lead to added staffing or funding for the local office.
Whitaker touted the administration’s focus on prosecuting medical providers and illicit drug manufacturers nationally.
“So far under President Donald Trump, the Department of Justice has charged more than 220 doctors with opioid-related crimes and convicted more than 80 of them,” Whitaker said. “We have also charged another 221 other medical personnel for opioid-related crimes.”
Whitaker’s Nashville speech came a day after he visited Memphis to announce the broad strokes of a plan to combat gun violence there.
No mention of Mueller investigation
The acting attorney general, who was appointed to replace Jeff Sessions, has been critical of the Mueller probe, but stayed mum on the topic during his visits to Nashville and Memphis despite the breaking developments that dominated news coverage.
On Thursday, Mueller’s team made a deal with Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, who pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump company real estate negotiations with Moscow in 2016.
Whitaker’s appointment also has come under fire because he never went through Senate confirmation. In the past, deputy attorney generals — who are confirmed by the Senate — temporarily step in when there’s a vacancy.
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Acting US Attorney General Matthew Whitaker visits Nashville on Thursday, Nov. 29. LARRY MCCORMACK / THE TENNESSEAN