Trump's new acting attorney general already has a plan to stop Mueller probe

In op-eds and interviews from before he joined the Justice Department, new acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker expressed his criticisms of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe along with a plan for how it could be stymied.

Following President Trump’s firing on Wednesday of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia will now be overseen by Whitaker instead of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Whitaker was critical of the investigation in an August 2017 CNN op-ed, writing that the special counsel has “come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing.”

“It does not take a lawyer or even a former federal prosecutor like myself to conclude that investigating Donald Trump’s finances or his family’s finances falls completely outside of the realm of his 2016 campaign and allegations that the campaign coordinated with the Russian government or anyone else. That goes beyond the scope of the appointment of the special counsel,” continued Whitaker in the piece.

In an appearance last year on CNN, Whitaker laid out the plan he could now use to limit the Mueller investigation.

“So I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment,” Whitaker said in July 2017, “and that attorney general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.”

Whitaker also defended Donald Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with Russian officials promising opposition research against Hillary Clinton, stating, “You would always take that meeting.”

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Iowa Republican senatorial candidate former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker looks on before a live televised debate at Iowa Public Television studios, Thursday, April 24, 2014, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
UNITED STATES - July 23: Matt Whitaker (R) Iowa is interviewed at Roll Call office in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
Iowa Republican senatorial candidates, retired CEO Mark Jacobs, left, and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker, talk after a live televised debate at KCCI-TV studios, Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Iowa Republican senatorial candidate, former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker, looks on before a live televised debate at KCCI-TV studios, Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
FILE - In this April 11, 2014, file photo, Iowa Senate candidate Matt Whitaker speaks during the Iowa Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A GOP TV spot comparing castrating hogs to cutting spending, and Democrat Bruce Braley’s comment that lawyers like him are better suited to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee than “an Iowa farmer” like U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, have raised the Iowa’s open Senate seat on the GOP’s list of winnable races in the 2014 elections. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Iowa Republican Matt Whitaker officially announces his plans to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014 during a news conference, Monday, June 3, 2013, in Ankeny, Iowa. The former U.S. attorney said that he will seek the seat being vacated by retiring five-term Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
FILE - In this April 11, 2014, file photo, Iowa Senate candidate Matt Whitaker speaks during the Iowa Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A GOP TV spot comparing castrating hogs to cutting spending, and Democrat Bruce Braley’s comment that lawyers like him are better suited to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee than “an Iowa farmer” like U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, have raised the Iowa’s open Senate seat on the GOP’s list of winnable races in the 2014 elections. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
UNITED STATES - July 23: Matt Whitaker (R) Iowa is interviewed at Roll Call office in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
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Sessions hired Whitaker as his chief of staff in September 2017 after his views about Mueller were public. Whitaker was then a former U.S. attorney who had run for the Senate from Iowa as a Republican in 2014, promising that he would vote for federal judicial nominees who have “a Biblical view of justice.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., responded to the announcement by saying that Whitaker needed to follow Sessions in stepping away from oversight of the special counsel while running the Justice Department.

“Given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation, Mr. Whitaker should recuse himself from its oversight for the duration of his time as acting attorney general,” wrote Schumer.

So far, Mueller’s investigation has resulted in convictions against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and guilty pleas from former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign aide Rick Gates and former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Dozens of additional indictments have been announced by the special counsel.
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