Act­ing AG likely to pro­tect Trump from Rus­sia in­quiry

The Idaho Statesman - - News - BY DEVLIN BAR­RETT, MATT ZAPOTOSKY AND JOSH DAWSEY

WASH­ING­TON

Act­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Matt Whi­taker has no in­ten­tion of re­cus­ing him­self from over­see­ing the spe­cial coun­sel probe of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple close to him who added they do not be­lieve he would ap­prove any sub­poena of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump as part of that in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Since step­ping into his new role on Wed­nes­day, Whi­taker has faced ques­tions – prin­ci­pally from Democrats – about whether he should re­cuse from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, given that he has writ­ten opin­ion pieces in the past about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and is a friend and po­lit­i­cal ally of a wit­ness.

On Thurs­day, two peo­ple close to Whi­taker said he has no in­ten­tion of tak­ing him­self off the Rus­sia case.

Ethics of­fi­cials at the Jus­tice Depart­ment are likely to re­view his past work to see if he has any fi­nan­cial or per­sonal con­flicts. In many in­stances, that of­fice does not re­quire a Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cial to re­cuse, but sug­gests a course of ac­tion. In the past, se­nior Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials tend to fol­low such ad­vice, but they are rarely re­quired to do so, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the process.

A Jus­tice Depart­ment spokes­woman de­clined to com­ment. Of­fi­cials there have said Whi­taker will fol­low the reg­u­lar pro­ce­dure in han­dling any ethics is­sues that arise.

In 2014, Whi­taker chaired the cam­paign of Sam Clo­vis, a Repub­li­can can­di­date for Iowa state trea­surer. Clo­vis went on to work as a Trump cam­paign ad­viser and has be­come a wit­ness in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment ad­vises em­ploy­ees that “gen­er­ally, an em­ployee should seek ad­vice from an ethics of­fi­cial be­fore par­tic­i­pat­ing in any mat­ter in which her im­par­tial­ity could be ques­tioned.” Reg­u­la­tions pro­hibit em­ploy­ees, “with­out writ­ten au­tho­riza­tion, from par­tic­i­pat­ing in a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion or pros­e­cu­tion if he has a per­sonal or po­lit­i­cal re­la­tion­ship with any per­son or or­ga­ni­za­tion sub­stan­tially in­volved in the con­duct that is the sub­ject of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion or pros­e­cu­tion.”

Ethics of­fi­cials might ad­vise Whi­taker that his com­men­tary cre­ated the ap­pear­ance of a con­flict of in­ter­est and leave the de­ci­sion to him. If they rec­om­mended force­fully that he re­cuse him­self and he de­clined, Whi­taker could then be re­ferred to the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s Of­fice of Pro­fes­sional Re­spon­si­bil­ity, and his li­cense to prac­tice law could be put at is­sue.

The two peo­ple close to Whi­taker also said they strongly be­lieve he would not ap­prove any re­quest from spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller to sub­poena the pres­i­dent. Mueller and Trump’s lawyers have ne­go­ti­ated for months about a pos­si­ble in­ter­view, with no agree­ment in sight.

Whi­taker’s el­e­va­tion to be­come the na­tion’s top law en­force­ment of­fi­cial fol­lowed the ouster Wed­nes­day of Jeff Ses­sions as at­tor­ney gen­eral.

CHAR­LIE NEIBERGALL AP

Matt Whi­taker, the new act­ing US at­tor­ney gen­eral re­plac­ing Jeff Ses­sions, has writ­ten opin­ion pieces about the spe­cial coun­sel’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He is a friend and po­lit­i­cal ally of a wit­ness.

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