Sessions replacement talks Russia probe in 2017

Matthew Whitaker, now the acting attorney general after Jeff Sessions, discussed in 2017 how he thinks the Russia probe might be impacted if Sessions is replaced.

Posted: Nov 8, 2018 3:05 PM
Updated: Nov 8, 2018 3:30 PM

Jeff Sessions' ouster as attorney general was a long time in the making, but his sudden departure Wednesday has sent Washington scrambling over what it means for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation as it nears its expected conclusion.

President Donald Trump appointed Sessions' chief of staff Matt Whitaker, an outspoken skeptic of the Russia investigation, to acting attorney general. In that position Whitaker is expected to take the reins from Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, and oversee Mueller's inquiry.

As acting attorney general, Whitaker will have say over key decisions, such as whether to subpoena the President, approve criminal charges of individuals and directions over the scope of the investigation as more information comes to light.

Whitaker will also decide if the final report prepared by Mueller should be made public as well as which portions to redact.

Many Democrats are calling for him to recuse himself since he has previously suggested limits to the inquiry.

"I'm very concerned," Preet Bharara, a former US attorney for the Southern District of New York during the Obama administration, said on CNN. It "looks like you have someone who has prejudged the Mueller investigation ... there might be an undue restricting of the investigation."

Given Trump's frustration with Sessions for having recused himself from the Russia probe, a move that put Rosenstein in charge of it, Bharara added, "You've got to believe the President got a different kind of understanding" from Whitaker.

Early reactions from the White House were to downplay an abrupt ending of the special counsel's investigation.

Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump's attorneys, said of the inquiry. "It's gone on this long, I can't imagine he would end it now." Giuliani is one of the attorneys helping prepare the President's written answers to questions from Mueller's team.

Limits on Mueller's investigation would not mean all criminal inquiries would end.

Mueller's team, including attorneys hired for the investigation as well as career FBI agents, have been working diligently behind the scenes. It's likely active criminal investigations would continue in another format even if the special counsel inquiry were shut down.

Officials could make referrals of ongoing investigations to other US attorney's offices. There could also be sealed complaints or indictments of numerous individuals that Mueller's team could rush to make public.

Called for limits on Mueller

But others were speculating that Whitaker, a former US attorney who has also dabbled in politics, would could impact the probe less directly by limiting its funding or scope based on his prior statements. Whitaker was the campaign chairman for Sam Clovis in 2014 when Clovis ran for state treasurer in Iowa, according to an archived press release on Clovis' website. Clovis, who was a member of Trump's campaign, was interviewed as part of Mueller's inquiry.

Whitaker wrote in an op-ed on CNN.com last August before joining the Justice Department, that any inquiry that touched the President's finances would be off-limits. "It is time for Rosenstein, who is the acting attorney general for the purposes of this investigation, to order Mueller to limit the scope of his investigation to the four corners of the order appointing him special counsel.

"If he doesn't, then Mueller's investigation will eventually start to look like a political fishing expedition," he added.

Whitaker told Don Lemon on CNN Tonight in July 2017 that a new attorney general wouldn't need to fire Mueller to revamp the inquiry but could take steps that "reduces his budget so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt."

"So, I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment," Whitaker said, "and that attorney general doesn't fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt."

Democratic lawmakers said Sessions' forced resignation was an attempt by Trump to take control of the investigation with some going so far as to suggest any changes would amount to obstruction.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Sessions' firing "a blatant attempt" by the President to undermine the Mueller inquiry. She also called for Whitaker to recuse himself "given his record of threats to undermine and weaken the Russia investigation."

Whitaker has already publicly said one area Mueller's team is scrutinizing is not illegal -- Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey.

"There is no criminal obstruction of justice charge to be had here," Whitaker said in a radio interview in June 2017. In the interview, which followed Comey's congressional testimony about his encounters with Trump, Whitaker said, "There's no criminal case that could be substantiated on these facts no matter how good of a witness Jim Comey appears to be, and he was very impressive yesterday."

Democrats, who are poised to take control of the House, have indicated they will keep pressure on the Justice Department and are preparing in any event for a shutdown of the inquiry.

New York Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler, who is expected to become the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in January, said he is "immediately issuing multiple letters to key officials demanding that they preserve all relevant documents related to this action to make sure that the investigation and any evidence remains safe from improper interference or destruction."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 16769

Reported Deaths: 803
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds110426
Madison77829
Lauderdale76569
Neshoba73945
Jones70933
Scott66312
Forrest60039
DeSoto59310
Rankin4639
Leake45512
Holmes44431
Copiah3344
Jackson31415
Attala31218
Yazoo2985
Newton2924
Oktibbeha28314
Leflore28238
Lincoln28131
Wayne2803
Monroe26925
Harrison2687
Lamar2525
Lowndes2529
Pearl River21231
Pike20411
Adams20416
Warren19910
Washington1998
Lee1978
Noxubee1956
Covington1832
Bolivar16911
Jasper1684
Clarke15619
Smith15611
Lafayette1564
Kemper15611
Chickasaw14314
Coahoma1324
Clay1254
Winston1241
Carroll11911
Marion1169
Claiborne1165
Yalobusha1116
Grenada1104
Lawrence1071
Simpson1050
Sunflower963
Tate931
Hancock9012
Marshall893
Union897
Itawamba897
Webster885
Panola873
Wilkinson859
Montgomery841
Jefferson Davis823
Tippah7611
Calhoun684
Walthall670
Amite651
Humphreys647
Tunica583
Prentiss533
Choctaw522
Perry513
Pontotoc493
Jefferson421
Tishomingo360
Stone320
Quitman320
Tallahatchie311
Greene301
George302
Franklin292
Alcorn191
Benton140
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 19387

Reported Deaths: 676
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2341123
Jefferson1927105
Montgomery190544
Tuscaloosa85316
Marshall7149
Franklin5939
Lee56334
Shelby53619
Tallapoosa43566
Butler43121
Walker3973
Elmore38110
Chambers36326
Madison3594
Unassigned3144
Morgan3141
Baldwin2969
Dallas2963
Lowndes26912
Etowah26512
DeKalb2603
Autauga2485
Coffee2401
Sumter2369
Houston2275
Pike2231
Bullock2197
Colbert1972
Hale19210
Russell1870
Barbour1831
Marengo1796
Lauderdale1752
Calhoun1693
Cullman1631
Wilcox1587
Choctaw15310
Clarke1492
St. Clair1372
Randolph1288
Dale1250
Marion12511
Talladega1215
Pickens1215
Limestone1100
Chilton1081
Greene955
Macon944
Winston920
Jackson863
Henry842
Covington831
Crenshaw803
Escambia793
Bibb761
Washington746
Blount641
Lawrence510
Monroe492
Geneva450
Perry430
Conecuh421
Coosa401
Cherokee383
Clay282
Lamar280
Fayette160
Cleburne151
Tupelo
Few Clouds
91° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 96°
Columbus
Scattered Clouds
88° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 97°
Oxford
Clear
90° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 93°
Starkville
Scattered Clouds
86° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 92°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather