Whi­taker won’t re­cuse him­self from Mueller probe, source says

Ex-pros­e­cu­tor says, ‘We’re in to­tally un­charted wa­ters’

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - REMEMBERING - In­for­ma­tion from The As­so­ci­ated Press was in­cluded in this re­port.

WASH­ING­TON — Matthew Whi­taker, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s new act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, has no in­ten­tion of re­cus­ing him­self from over­see­ing spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller, de­spite hav­ing openly crit­i­cized his Rus­sia probe, a per­son fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter said Thurs­day.

Whi­taker would, how­ever, con­sult Jus­tice De­part­ment ethics of­fi­cials if a par­tic­u­lar mat­ter arose, said the per­son, who asked to re­main anony­mous speak­ing about the is­sue.

Democrats have de­manded that Whi­taker step back from Mueller’s con­tin­u­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion, based on his past crit­i­cism of the probe. Trump named Whi­taker to run the Jus­tice De­part­ment tem­po­rar­ily af­ter oust­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions on Wed­nes­day.

As Mueller’s new boss, Whi­taker has sig­nif­i­cant power to hob­ble or even halt the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that Trump has long called a witch hunt. Mueller is prob­ing Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion, whether Trump or any of his as­so­ci­ates con­spired in the med­dling, and whether Trump ob­structed jus­tice.

For­mer Jus­tice De­part­ment of­fi­cials agreed with Demo­cratic law­mak­ers who have de­manded that Whi­taker re­cuse him­self — as Ses­sions did in 2017. That left Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein in charge of the Rus­sia probe un­til Trump re­placed Ses­sions.

“We’re in to­tally un­charted wa­ters,” said Jef­frey Cramer, a for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor. The Jus­tice De­part­ment “must be above and be­yond any sense of im­pro­pri­ety for peo­ple to have con­fi­dence in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.”

As a CNN com­men­ta­tor, Whi­taker openly ar­gued last year that Mueller’s probe needed to be cur­tailed, even de­scrib­ing a sce­nario in which an act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral doesn’t fire Mueller but “just re­duces his bud­get to so low that his in­ves­ti­ga­tions grind to al­most a halt.”

He said Trump may be right in call­ing the probe a witch hunt if it turned to Trump’s per­sonal fi­nances and those of his fam­ily.

As far as Whi­taker is con­cerned, “the ques­tion is not is there an im­pro­pri­ety or has he al­ready been in­flu­enced,” said Cramer, who’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the Berke­ley Re­search Group. “The ques­tion is: Is there an ap­pear­ance of im­pro­pri­ety? A rea­son­able an­swer has to be yes. He’s spo­ken out against this in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Whi­taker also was chair­man of Sam Clo­vis’ failed cam­paign for Iowa state trea­surer in 2014. Clo­vis had run for the Se­nate as well and later worked on Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Clo­vis has been ques­tioned as part of Mueller’s Rus­sia probe.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., will try to force a vote next week on leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect Mueller.

Flake an­nounced the move Thurs­day. The Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee ap­proved the bill in April. It would give spe­cial coun­sels a 10-day win­dow to seek re­view of a fir­ing.

The sen­a­tors will ask for con­sent to vote on the bill, but any sen­a­tor can ob­ject.

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sched­uled a call Thurs­day for Democrats to dis­cuss their re­sponse.


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