# William Gustoff

Where are they now? Matt Whitaker edition

Matt Whitaker will become a managing director for the Kansas City-based Clout Public Affairs consulting firm, Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg News was first to report on August 1. Whitaker served as chief of staff for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for a little more than a year before President Donald Trump named him acting attorney general in November 2018, flouting a federal law and a constitutional requirement that anyone holding that position be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Whitaker stepped down as acting attorney general in February, after the Senate confirmed William Barr. He was “counselor in the associate attorney general’s office” for just a few weeks before leaving the Justice Department in early March. Jacobs tweeted on August 1, “There was speculation Trump would appoint Whitaker to another admin job, but the president so far hasn’t made any moves to do so, I’m told.”

Continue Reading...

Judicial nominating commission rejects effort to boot three members (updated)

All sixteen current members of the State Judicial Nominating Commission will be able to participate in selecting finalists for the Iowa Supreme Court and Iowa Court of Appeals in early 2019, the judicial branch announced today.

Republican attorney Bill Gustoff had argued that three of the commission’s eight attorneys need to be replaced, as their six-year terms expire on December 31. That would have given the eight political appointees (all Republicans named by Governors Terry Branstad or Kim Reynolds) the votes to control the short list of candidates for the high court vacancies.

Continue Reading...

Weekend open thread: Big Iowa GOP changes

The Republican Party of Iowa and the Iowa Democratic Party held district conventions yesterday. Nothing particularly important happened at the Democratic conventions, but the GOP gatherings continued the march toward overthrowing the “Liberty” faction that gained control soon after the 2012 caucuses. No one from the Ron Paul orbit won a seat on the newly-elected State Central Committee, which will take over after the party’s state convention in June. They are likely to replace Danny Carroll and Gopal Krishna in the party’s top leadership positions.

I’ve listed the new State Central Committee members after the jump. Notable names include Governor Terry Branstad’s legal counsel Brenna Findley and William Gustoff, both elected to represent the third district. Gustoff is a partner in the law firm headed by U.S. Senate candidate Matt Whitaker and State Representative Chris Hagenow. In 2011, Branstad named Gustoff to the State Judicial Nominating Commission, but the Iowa Senate did not confirm him. Findley briefly was an attorney with Whitaker Hagenow after she left Representative Steve King’s staff to run for Iowa attorney general in 2010.

According to Kevin Hall of The Iowa Republican blog, “Liberty” activists handed out flyers at all four district conventions urging delegates not to vote for fourteen State Central Committee candidates. All fourteen of them won seats on the committee anyway.

Another interesting development: the GOP platform committee in the first district removed the plank declaring marriage to be between one man and one woman. Katherine Klingseis reported for The Des Moines Register that the new platform language asserts the government should have no role in marriage. Some delegates tried and failed three times yesterday to restore the traditional marriage plank through amendments. UPDATE: According to conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart, one of the IA-01 convention votes on platform language went 116 to 89 to remove so-called “defense of traditional marriage” from the district GOP platform.

Kathie Obradovich wrote up the six IA-03 candidates’ pitches to Republican convention delegates. For now I consider it more likely than not that the nomination will be decided at a special district convention.

UPDATE: More thoughts on the Iowa GOP State Central Committee changes after the jump.

Continue Reading...

IA-Sen: Matt Whitaker building campaign website

Former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker expressed interest in Iowa’s Senate seat on the day Senator Tom Harkin announced his retirement plans, and it appears the Republican is close to launching a campaign. WHO-TV’s Dave Price noticed today that there’s a MattWhitaker.org website. For now, the only content is a picture of Whitaker, an announcement that “MattWhitaker.org is coming soon,” and a link you can click to sign up for e-mails.

Whitaker likely won’t clear the Republican primary field, but he should have no trouble raising a lot of money for a Senate campaign. A former University of Iowa football player, he served as U.S. attorney for the southern district of Iowa during George W. Bush’s administration. He is now a managing partner in the Des Moines law firm Whitaker Hagenow & Gustoff LLP. The other senior partners are Iowa House Majority Whip Chris Hagenow and William Gustoff, whom Governor Terry Branstad tried to appoint to the State Judicial Nominating Commission. Branstad’s legal counsel Brenna Findley joined the Whitaker Hagenow law firm in 2010, while she was campaigning for Iowa attorney general.

Earlier this month, Whitaker sparred with Democratic Senate candidate Bruce Braley’s campaign manager Jeff Link on Dave Price’s Sunday morning television show. He said he was getting a lot of encouragement to run for Senate from Republicans all over Iowa.

UPDATE: Republican blogger Craig Robinson predicts that in a GOP primary, Whitaker’s “decision to represent Zach Edwards […] could come back to haunt him.” In early 2012, Edwards was arrested and charged with attempting identity theft against Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz. He ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor. Schultz is also thinking about running for the U.S. Senate seat.

SECOND UPDATE: Here are Whitaker’s statistics as a football player.

Iowa Senate may reject two Branstad appointees (updated)

The Iowa Senate confirmed six of Governor Terry Branstad’s appointees to state offices and boards yesterday, but Democratic senators indicated that two of the governor’s picks may not receive the two-thirds vote needed in the upper chamber. Meanwhile, Branstad suggested at his weekly press conference that race may be a factor in opposition to Isaiah McGee as director of the Iowa Department of Human Rights.

Follow me after the jump for more on who was confirmed yesterday and the battles coming later this week.

UPDATE: On April 12 the Senate rejected McGee as well as William Gustoff, one of Branstad’s appointees to the state Judicial Nominating Commission. Senators confirmed Teresa Wahlert with two votes to spare and three members of the Environmental Protection Commission. Details on the April 12 votes are below.

Continue Reading...

Branstad's unusual judicial commission nominee

Clark Kauffman has a interesting story in today’s Des Moines Register about William Gustoff, one of Governor Terry Branstad’s two recent appointees to the State Judicial Nominating commission. Apparently it is unprecedented for an Iowa governor to name an attorney to this commission. Gubernatorial appointees are typically non-lawyers, while the State Bar Association selects lawyers to serve. Kauffman noticed something else I didn’t realize about Gustoff:

Gustoff is among four lawyers representing four Iowans in a federal lawsuit against the nominating commission.

Ironically, one of the claims made by the plaintiffs in that case is that the makeup of the commission – half lawyers, half lay people – is biased against nonlawyers because they have no say in the selection of half the commission.

The lawsuit was first filed in December. In February, it was dismissed by a federal judge who said the plaintiffs failed to show a clear violation of their constitutional rights. An appeal is now pending in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Gustoff said that although he is listed as the lead attorney for one of the plaintiffs, his involvement in the case was minimal at first and is almost nonexistent now.

“I’m not really that involved in it,” he said. “I haven’t taken any steps to remove myself from the case as the attorney of record. But I am not admitted to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, so I can’t file anything now, and I really have nothing to do with it at this point.”

Gustoff said he’s not a trial lawyer, and his practice is focused on estate planning and nonprofit law. As a result, he said, he will bring to the commission the perspective of an average citizen, rather than that of a typical lawyer.

Asked why, if he specializes in estate planning and nonprofits, he was hired to handle the lawsuit against the commission, Gustoff said he’s not sure. “They got me from somewhere,” he said, laughing. “I don’t know. I never asked them how they got my name.”

Gustoff works in the law firm of Whitaker Hagenow, which is run by Chris Hagenow, a Republican state representative who has sponsored legislation to abolish the Judicial Nominating Commission, and Matt Whitaker, a former Supreme Court applicant who has accused the commission of manipulating the selection of Supreme Court justices.

Neither Hagenow’s bill nor other proposals to change the judicial nominating system made it past the Iowa legislature’s “funnel” deadline last week.

Bleeding Heartland discussed the federal lawsuit against the judicial nominating commission here. The case seems quite weak. It’s telling that the attorneys running the show in this politically-motivated lawsuit selected Gustoff (a partner in a conservative law firm) as opposed to some Iowa attorney with experience in litigation or constitutional law.

Kauffman paraphrases Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht as confirming that the governor picked Gustoff “because of his conservative leanings.” Branstad’s other appointee to the judicial nominating commission is a non-laywer, Helen St. Clair of Melrose. She is presumably related to Maurice St. Clair of Melrose, who donated about $45,000 to Branstad’s gubernatorial campaign. Most of the remaining members of the judicial nominating commission are registered Democrats.

UPDATE: Nathan Tucker calls Kauffman’s article “journalistic malpractice”. Excerpts from his case are after the jump.

Continue Reading...

Catch-up thread on Branstad appointments

Governor Terry Branstad announced some important personnel decisions in the past few days, naming former State Representative Libby Jacobs to chair the Iowa Utilities Board and three new members of the Board of Regents, including Bruce Rastetter.

Follow me after the jump for more on those and other Branstad administration appointments.

UPDATE: On March 1 President Barack Obama named Branstad to co-chair the Council of Governors, “established by the National Defense Authorization Act in 2008 to strengthen further partnership between the Federal and State governments as it pertains to national security.” Branstad will serve a two-year term as co-chair.

SECOND UPDATE: Branstad announced more than 200 appointments to state boards and commissions on March 2. Bleeding Heartland covered the four appointees to the Environmental Protection Commission here; all have ties to large agribusiness.

Another name that caught my eye was Eric Goranson, a lobbyist and parochial schools advocate whom Branstad named to the State Board of Education. He has been a leading critic of the Iowa Core Curriculum (see here and here). The Under the Golden Dome Blog argues that Goranson’s appointment may violate Iowa code, which states, “A voting member [of the Board of Education] shall not be engaged in professional education for a major portion of the member’s time nor shall the member derive a major portion of income from any business or activity connected with education.” Several of Goranson’s lobbying clients represent religious private schools or Christian home-schooling parents.

THIRD UPDATE: I forgot to mention Branstad’s two appointees to the State Judicial Nominating Commission: Helen St. Clair of Melrose and William Gustoff of Des Moines. I have been unable to find any information about Helen St. Clair, but a Maurice St. Clair of Melrose was among Branstad’s top 20 individual donors, contributing more than $45,000 to the gubernatorial campaign. I assume he is related to Helen St. Clair and will update this post if I confirm that. William Gustoff is a founding partner of the Whitaker Hagenow law firm, which includes Republican former U.S. attorney Matt Whitaker and State Representative Chris Hagenow. Branstad’s legal counsel Brenna Findley also worked at Whitaker Hagenow last year.

Continue Reading...