Republicans defend Mueller probe as Democrats vow action if new AG Whitaker doesn’t recuse himself

Politicians on both sides of the aisle defended special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation Sunday, as the recent resignation of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and appointment of new Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has thrown Mueller’s future into doubt.

Whitaker will be taking over the Mueller investigation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — and Whitaker brings with him a history of criticism of the probe. His past comments have led many to speculate that the investigation’s days could be numbered and call on Whitaker to recuse himself from the investigation.

In interviews Sunday, however, Republicans denied the Mueller investigation is at risk. White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said on Fox News Sunday that it “would be a mistake to try to shut down the Mueller investigation ... because we’ve been so compliant.”

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 28: Former FBI director Robert Mueller attends the ceremonial swearing-in of FBI Director James Comey at the FBI Headquarters October 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. Comey was officially sworn in as director of FBI on September 4 to succeed Mueller who had served as director for 12 years. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama applauds outgoing Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) director Robert Mueller (L) in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on June 21, 2013 as he nominates Jim Comey to be the next FBI director. Comey, a deputy attorney general under George W. Bush, would replace Mueller, who is stepping down from the agency he has led since the week before the September 11, 2001 attacks. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller applauds key staff members during a farewell ceremony held for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW HEADSHOT)
391489 03: U.S. President George W. Bush speaks during a conference as he stands with Justice Department veteran Robert Mueller, left, who he has nominated to head the FBI, and Attorney General John Ashcroft July 5, 2001 the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller stands for the national anthem during a farewell ceremony for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (L) reacts to a standing ovation from the audience, Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole (C) and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (R) during Mueller's farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller gestures during his remarks at a farewell ceremony held for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
FILE PHOTO -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (R) and FBI Director Robert Mueller speak about possible terrorist threats against the United States, in Washington, May 26, 2004. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller reacts to applause from the audience during his farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., right, and FBI Director Robert Mueller make their way to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (C) delivers remarks at a farewell ceremony for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Also onstage with Mueller are Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole (FROM L), U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA Director George Tenet and TSA Administrator John Pistole. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 15: (L-R) Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton attend the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol May 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. Holder and other members of the Obama administration are being criticized over reports of the Internal Revenue Services' scrutiny of conservative organization's tax exemption requests and the subpoena of two months worth of Associated Press journalists' phone records. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Federal Bureau of Investigation oversight on Capitol Hill in Washington June 13, 2013. Mueller said on Thursday that the U.S. government is doing everything it can to hold confessed leaker Edward Snowden accountable for splashing surveillance secrets across the pages of newspapers worldwide. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (L) welcomes FBI Director Robert Mueller during their meeting in Kiev June 5, 2013. REUTERS/Efrem Lukatsky/Pool (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS)
FBI Director Robert Mueller (L) arrives for the Obama presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington. President Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term as President of the United States. Woman at right is unidentified. REUTERS/Win McNamee-POOL (UNITED STATES)
WASHINGTON, : FBI Director Robert Mueller answers questions before Congress 17 October 2002 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Mueller was testifying before the House and Senate Select Intelligence committees' final open hearing investigating events leading up to the September 11, 2001. AFP Photos/Stephen JAFFE (Photo credit should read STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)
(L-R) CIA Director Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director Robert Mueller testify at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 16, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
399994 02: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller visits the American military compound at Kandahar Airport January 23, 2002 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mueller had lunch with FBI officials and Haji Gulali, commander of the Kandahar region. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller (L) stand during the National Anthem alongside Attorney General Eric Holder (R) and Deputy Attorney General James Cole (C) during a farewell ceremony in Mueller's honor at the Department of Justice on August 1, 2013. Mueller is retiring from the FBI after 12-years as Director. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
399994 01: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller greets American forces on the American military compound at Kandahar Airport January 23, 2002 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mueller had lunch with FBI officials and Haji Gulali, commander of the Kandahar region. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: FBI Director Robert Mueller, center, talks with Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., right, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, talk before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 06: OVERSIGHT HEARING ON COUNTERTERRORISM--Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, before the hearing. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
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When asked about the probe in a separate interview on ABC’s This Week, Conway said she doubted President Donald Trump would ask Whitaker to shut down the investigation “because it would prolong it,” adding she didn’t think either a Democratic or Republican Congress would “allow that.”

“We’ve been compliant, it’s going to go on, nobody’s interrupting it or interfering with it,” Conway said on ABC.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) added his support for the Mueller investigation in an interview Sunday on Meet the Press, saying it is “important for the American people.”

“I support the Mueller investigation,” Gardner said. “I know I’ve heard Senator McConnell say he supports the Mueller investigation. It’s important for the American people. It’s important that we have this for transparency. And I think it’s important for the president to have this information out there fully, transparently, and accurately.”

Gardner wouldn’t voice support for legislation that could protect the investigation, however. He told host Chuck Todd that “Mueller is not going to be stopped” and the investigation should continue. When pressed further about whether he supports the legislation, Gardner asked Todd, “If it’s going to continue, why protect something that’s continuing?”

Democrats, on the other hand, on Sunday signaled their plans to actively take steps to defend the Mueller investigation. Saying that Whitaker’s appointment “should concern every American,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union that Democratic leaders were sending a letter to the chief ethics officer at the U.S. Department of Justice asking them to issue guidelines whether Whitaker should recuse himself, noting that similar guidelines prompted Sessions’ recusal from the investigation.

If that doesn’t work, Schumer said Sunday that Democrats plan to attach legislation protecting the special counsel investigation to a spending bill, which would require Democratic support to pass. Schumer said he believed the bill would garner bipartisan support but didn’t rule out the possibility of potentially forcing a government shutdown over the legislation, telling host Jake Tapper, “we’ll see what happens down the road.”

Democrats also plan to take action once they take control of the House in January if Whitaker is still in the position. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who is expected to head the House Judiciary Committee, said in an interview on State of the Union that protecting the Mueller investigation was “the first thing” he would move to do.

“The president’s dismissal of Attorney General Sessions, and his appointment of Whitaker, who is a complete political lackey, is a real threat to the integrity of that investigation,” Nadler said.

“That investigation is of utmost importance in making sure that we adhere to the rule of law and that the administration is held accountable. And we will certainly hold hearings on that. Our very first witness after January 3, we will subpoena, or we will summon, if necessary subpoena, Mr. Whitaker.”

Nadler said House Democrats would ask Whitaker about “his expressed hostility to the investigation” and “how he can possibly supervise it when he’s expressed, when he’s come out and said that the investigation is invalid.”

In a separate interview on ABC, Nadler added that if Mueller does get fired, his findings could still see the light of day. House Democrats could subpoena Mueller and compel him to testify on the investigation, or subpoena the final result.

“We could subpoena Mueller and ask him in front of the committee, ‘What was in your final report?’” Nadler said Sunday on ABC. “Those are things we could do.

“But the fact is any such interference would be a pattern of obstruction of justice. ... [Whitaker] should recuse himself because he has expressed total hostility to the investigation, he has said the investigation shouldn’t go forward, and someone who’s said that should not be in charge of deciding on the investigation.”

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