Act­ing AG Whi­taker seen as un­likely to re­cuse him­self in Rus­sia in­quiry

The Tribune (SLO) - - Insight - BY DEVLIN BAR­RETT, MATT ZAPO­TO­SKY AND JOSH DAWSEY

WASH­ING­TON

Act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral Matthew 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 Wed­nes­day, Whi­taker has faced ques­tions – prin­ci­pally from Democrats – about whether he should re­cuse him­self from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, given that he has writ­ten opin­ion pieces about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and is a friend and po­lit­i­cal ally of a grand jury wit­ness.

On Thurs­day evening, Demo­cratic at­tor­neys gen­eral for 17 states and the Dis­trict wrote to Whi­taker urg­ing him to re­cuse him­self from the Rus­sia probe.

“As chief law en­force­ment of­fi­cers of our re­spec­tive states, we ask that you re­cuse your­self from any role in over­see­ing Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion,” the Demo­cratic at­tor­neys gen­eral wrote. “Be­cause a rea­son­able per­son could ques­tion your im­par­tial­ity in the mat­ter, your re­cusal is nec­es­sary to main­tain pub­lic trust in the in­tegrity of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and to pro­tect the es­sen­tial and long­stand­ing in­de­pen­dence of the Depart­ment you have been cho­sen to lead, on an act­ing ba­sis.”

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 Mueller.

Clo­vis said Wed­nes­day that Whi­taker is a friend and that he texted con­grat­u­la­tions to Whi­taker on Wed­nes­day af­ter he be­came at­tor­ney gen­eral. The ques­tion for ethics of­fi­cials, if they are asked, would be whether Clo­vis would be con­sid­ered “sub­stan­tially in­volved” in the con­duct Mueller is in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

On the is­sue of his opin­ion columns, Whi­taker could ar­gue that he took po­si­tions be­fore he knew the full fac­tual and le­gal cir­cum­stances of the case and there­fore there is no need for re­cusal.

The White House is un­con­cerned about Whi­taker’s pre­vi­ous com­ments, a se­nior White House of­fi­cial said. He was at the White House on Thurs­day af­ter­noon for a meet­ing on im­mi­gra­tion.

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

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