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