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What has new Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker said about the Mueller investigation?  2 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, who on Wednesday was tasked with overseeing Robert Mueller's investigation into interference in the 2016 election, has repeatedly criticized the probe.

Whitaker, who had been chief of staff at the Justice Department and is a former U.S. attorney from Iowa, was appointed Wednesday by President Donald Trump to fill in for his former boss, Jeff Sessions, on an interim basis.

Trump has often criticized Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the special counsel's investigation due to his own involvement in Trump's campaign, and Democrats fear his ouster is an excuse to place a loyalist in charge of the Justice Department.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Whitaker has no plans to recuse himself from the investigation.

So what has Whitaker said about the investigation?

Whitaker appeared on CNN in June 2017 and called Mueller "a well-respected lawyer" but said there was no public evidence of obstruction of justice or collusion by Trump or his campaign.

"Well, because I'm a former prosecutor, I know how investigations go, and I know that what we know publicly, there's not enough for a case, but certainly Bob Mueller has all the power of the federal government now to conduct an investigation, and he may turn over things that we just haven't heard about yet," Whitaker said.

He also said Trump acted appropriately in firing former FBI Director James Comey. That firing is thought to be under investigation by Mueller as a possible obstruction of justice.

"His conversation with James Comey about the Mike Flynn investigation and together with firing of Director Comey, those are both well within his power of the executive," Whitaker said.

In a July 10 appearance on CNN, Whitaker said he didn't see evidence that Trump's campaign was engaged in a conspiracy when Donald Trump Jr. and several campaign officials met at Trump Tower with Russians who promised "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.

"If you have somebody that you trust that is saying you need to meet with this individual because they have information about your opponent, you would take that meeting," he said.

Later in the appearance he said he was not advocating that campaigns reach out to foreign nationals for opposition research; he said there is no evidence anyone on the campaign knew of the source's connection to the Kremlin.

"I am not giving a campaign advice to meet with foreign nationals to get oppo research. And I didn't mean to suggest that, and I don't think I did," he said.

In a July 2017 appearance on CNN, Whitaker said he could see a scenario where the "attorney general doesn't fire Bob Mueller but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigations grind to almost a halt."

The next month, Whitaker spoke on CNN and wrote a column for the network that said Trump was right to question Mueller for looking at the finances of the Trump Organization and the president’s family.

"The President is absolutely correct," Whitaker wrote. "Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing."

Investigating Trump's finances without additional authority "would raise serious concerns that the special counsel's investigation was a mere witch hunt," Whitaker wrote in the column.

Whitaker has also used his Twitter account to criticize the investigation. In an August 2017 tweet, he shared an opinion article with the headline "Note to Trump's lawyer: Do not cooperate with Mueller lynch mob."

And he has also shared an article about FBI agents raiding the home of former Trump Campaign Chair Paul Manafort, asking "do we want our Gov't to 'intimidate' us?"

Whitaker ran for U.S. Senate in Iowa in 2014, losing in the primary to Sen. Joni Ernst. Later that year, he chaired the 2014 Iowa state treasurer campaign of Sam Clovis, another former rival for the Senate seat.

Clovis later served as a co-chair of Trump's presidential campaign and encouraged staffer George Papadopoulos to pursue a meeting with Russian officials. NBC News has reported Clovis was interviewed by Mueller's team and testified before a grand jury.

Democrats haven't taken kindly to Whitaker's comments and many have suggested he recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation.

"Given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation, Mr. Whitaker should recuse himself from its oversight for the duration of his time as acting attorney general," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, who will likely oversee the House Judiciary Committee when the new Congress is sworn in, has said he plans to investigate the circumstances of Sessions' departure.

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