Trump admin braces for probe
Advisers worried that Mueller has been compiling information and could issue damning report.
WASHINGTON — The White House is bracing for the probe of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to fire up again. Trump’s advisers are privately expressing worries that the special counsel, who’s been out of the news for the past month, has been stealthily compiling information and could soon issue new indictments or a damning final report.
Trump abruptly altered the chain of command above Robert Mueller on Wednesday, putting his work under the supervision of a Republican loyalist who has been openly skeptical of the special counsel’s authority and has mused about ways to curtail his power.
But Trump and his aides are concerned about Mueller’s next move with the work that is complete, according to a White House official and a Republican with close ties to the administration.
They insisted on anonymity to comment on conversations they were not authorized to describe.
Mueller has laid low for the past month as voters were mulling their choices for this week’s elections.
But a flurry of activity during his quiet period, including weeks of grand jury testimony about Trump confidant Roger Stone and negotiations over an interview with the president, hinted at public developments ahead as investigators move closer to addressing
key questions underpinning the special counsel inquiry: Did Trump illegally obstruct the investigation? And did his campaign have advance knowledge of illegally hacked Democratic emails?
Trump has told confidants he remains deeply annoyed by the 18-monthold Mueller probe, believing it is not just a “witch hunt” but an expensive and lengthy negative distraction. The latest indication of the fury came Wednesday when he forced out his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whose recusal opened the door to Mueller’s appointment.
To this point, Trump has heeded advice not to directly interfere, though a new chapter in the relationship with the probe may have begun with the appointment of Matthew
Whitaker as new acting attorney general.
Even if Whitaker, Sessions’ former chief of staff, does not curtail the investigation, Trump could direct him to take a more aggressive stance in declassifying documents that could undermine or muddle the probe, the White House aide and GOP official said.
The investigation until now has been overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller last year and granted him fairly broad authority.
“It’s very significant because Whitaker’s position on indictments or future indictments may be different than Rosenstein’s, and Rosenstein had given Mueller a broad mandate to pursue various crimes,” said Washington criminal defense lawyer Jeffrey Jacobovitz.
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 and that they do not believe he would approve any subpoena of Trump as part of the investigation.
In 2014, Whitaker chaired the campaign of Sam Clovis, a GOP candidate for Iowa state treasurer. Clovis went on to work on the Trump campaign and has become a witness in Mueller’s investigation.
Ethics officials at the Justice Department are likely to review Whitaker’s 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 tended to follow such advice, but they are rarely required to do so, according to officials familiar with the process. end of wapost Whitaker, a former United States attorney from Iowa, was brought into the Justice Department last year to serve as Sessions’ chief of staff. In the months before, Whitaker was a familiar presence on CNN, where he questioned Mueller’s scope and reach.
In one appearance, he defended a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, saying, “You would always take that meeting.”
He also tweeted a prosecutor’s opinion piece that called the Mueller team a “lynch mob,” and wrote his own op-ed saying Mueller would be outside his authority if he investigated Trump’s family finances.
Meanwhile, in several cities — including New York, Washington and Chicago — protesters on Thursday converged to call for the protection of Mueller’s investigation.
Trump had enjoyed Whitaker’s cable TV appearances — including one on CNN in which he suggested that the Mueller probe be starved of resources — and the two men soon struck a bond. Trump told associates that he felt that Whitaker would be “loyal” and would not have recused himself from the Russia probe as Sessions had done, according to two Republicans close to the White House not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
Despite demands from Democrats and ethics watchdogs that he recuse because of his past comments, Whitaker showed no signs Thursday that he intended to do so. And not everyone is convinced he needs to.
“I think he will act consistently with the best traditions of the department and call things as he sees them,” said John Richter, a former U.S. Attorney in Oklahoma and high-ranking Bush administration Justice Department official
Protesters in front of the White House voice support for Robert Mueller’s investigation.