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.”
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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