Act­ing AG Whi­taker has thoughts on Rus­sia probe

The Mercury News Weekend - - NEWS - By Lau­rie Kell­man and Eric Tucker

WASH­ING­TON » Matthew Whi­taker has warned that Robert Mueller’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion risks “go­ing too far” and sup­ported lim­its on the pros­e­cu­tor’s power. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump couldn’t agree more.

So the loy­alty-lov­ing Trump Wed­nes­day dumped Jeff Ses­sions from the helm of the Jus­tice Depart­ment and re­placed him, for now, with the one­time col­lege foot­ball player and fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor. Un­like Ses­sions, who re­cused him­self from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion to Trump’s ev­er­last­ing fury, Whi­taker will over­see it.

Trump and the coun­try al­ready know much about Whi­taker’s per­spec­tive on the probe.

A look at the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and what Whi­taker has said about it:


Af­ter months of bit­ter at­tacks on Ses­sions, Trump Wed­nes­day an­nounced via Twit­ter that the for­mer Alabama sen­a­tor was be­ing re­placed. He named Whi­taker, 49, who had served as Ses- sions’ chief of staff, as act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, over­see­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

That job gives Whi­taker the power to over­see the Rus­sia probe. And though Democrats have called for him to re­cuse him­self be­cause of his past com­ments, the case is less clear-cut than it was for Ses­sions, who stepped aside be­cause of his promi­nent role in Trump’s cam­paign.

That’s rais­ing ques­tions about the fate of Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein has been over­see­ing it be­cause of Ses­sions’ re­cusal. It in­cludes ques­tions about a 2016 Trump Tower meet­ing in­volv­ing the pres­i­dent’s son, Don­ald Trump, Jr., and a Krem­lin-con­nected lawyer of­fer­ing dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton.

The on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion has pro­duced guilty pleas from four for­mer Trump aides.

Trump Tower, no big deal?

In a July 10, 2017, ap­pear­ance on CNN, Whi­taker shrugged off the idea that the Trump Tower meet­ing could be part of a crim­i­nal con­spir- acy. He said “there was so much smoke” sur­round­ing Clin­ton that it made per­fect sense for Trump Jr. to take a meet­ing at which he ex­pected to re­ceive dirt on her.

“You would al­ways take that meet­ing. You would have some­body from your cam­paign take the meet­ing to try to get the in­for­ma­tion,” he said. “If you have some­body that you trust that is say­ing you need to meet with this in­di­vid­ual be­cause they have in­for­ma­tion about her, you would take that meet­ing.”

Rec­om­mended read­ing

On Aug. 6, 2017, Whi­taker tweeted an op-ed news­pa­per piece from a for­mer Philadel­phia pros­e­cu­tor car­ry­ing the head­line: “Note to Trump’s Lawyer: Do not co­op­er­ate with Mueller lynch mob.” Whi­taker ac­com­pa­nied the tweet with his own com­ment to his fol­low­ers: “Worth a Read.”

Bleed it dry

Whi­taker laid out in a July 26, 2017, CNN ap­pear­ance a hy­po­thet­i­cal sce­nario in which Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion could be sti­fled with­out him be­ing fired.

Not­ing that the spe­cial coun­sel’s bud­get falls within the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s purview, Whi­taker said he could en­vi­sion a sit­u­a­tion in which Ses­sions was re­placed as at­tor­ney gen­eral and re­placed by a new boss who doesn’t fire Mueller but “just re­duces his bud­get to so low that his in­ves­ti­ga­tion grinds to al­most a halt.”

Rein it in

In an Aug. 6, 2017, on­line opin­ion piece for CNN, Whi­taker said Trump is “ab­so­lutely cor­rect” to say that Mueller would be go­ing too far if he were to in­ves­ti­gate the pres­i­dent’s fam­ily fi­nances. He said it did not take a lawyer or for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor to rec­og­nize that any in­quiry into Trump’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.”

“Mueller has come up to a red line in the Rus­sia 2016 elec­tion-med­dling in­ves­ti­ga­tion that he is dan­ger­ously close to cross­ing,” Whi­taker wrote.

The head­line on the oped: “Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Trump is go­ing too far.”

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