STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

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.

Cases: 320174

Reported Deaths: 7390
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22294271
Hinds20755424
Harrison18450317
Rankin13923282
Jackson13733249
Madison10273225
Lee10063176
Jones8473167
Forrest7837153
Lauderdale7263242
Lowndes6523150
Lamar636288
Lafayette6314121
Washington5427138
Bolivar4841133
Panola4671110
Oktibbeha466398
Pearl River4606148
Marshall4574105
Warren4440121
Pontotoc425973
Monroe4162136
Union415877
Neshoba4065180
Lincoln4009113
Hancock387687
Leflore3516125
Tate342586
Sunflower339491
Pike3373111
Alcorn327474
Scott320374
Yazoo314571
Adams308486
Itawamba305178
Copiah299966
Coahoma299084
Simpson298689
Tippah292268
Prentiss284261
Leake272374
Marion271280
Covington267283
Wayne264842
Grenada264087
George252451
Newton249064
Tishomingo232369
Winston230282
Jasper222148
Attala215173
Chickasaw210659
Holmes190574
Stone188733
Clay187954
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174232
Yalobusha167940
Smith164134
Walthall135447
Greene131834
Lawrence131224
Montgomery128643
Noxubee128034
Perry127538
Amite126342
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Jefferson Davis108334
Tunica108127
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96729
Franklin85023
Quitman82316
Choctaw79118
Wilkinson69632
Jefferson66328
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 549013

Reported Deaths: 11311
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson810461571
Mobile42145831
Madison35718525
Tuscaloosa26179458
Shelby25626254
Montgomery25089614
Baldwin21901314
Lee16287176
Calhoun14724327
Morgan14639285
Etowah14183364
Marshall12454230
Houston10791287
Elmore10301214
Limestone10188157
St. Clair10161251
Cullman9958201
Lauderdale9612250
DeKalb8977190
Talladega8462184
Walker7341280
Autauga7242113
Jackson6953113
Blount6950139
Colbert6415140
Coffee5638127
Dale4930116
Russell454941
Chilton4478116
Franklin431782
Covington4279122
Tallapoosa4144155
Escambia401880
Chambers3728124
Dallas3610158
Clarke353161
Marion3245107
Pike314578
Lawrence3134100
Winston283572
Bibb268564
Geneva258481
Marengo250665
Pickens237062
Barbour234559
Hale227178
Butler224671
Fayette218962
Henry194443
Randolph187644
Cherokee187345
Monroe180641
Washington170739
Macon163051
Clay160159
Crenshaw156357
Cleburne153644
Lamar146937
Lowndes142254
Wilcox126930
Bullock124542
Conecuh113630
Coosa111629
Perry108626
Sumter105832
Greene93634
Choctaw62125
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 63°
Columbus
Partly Cloudy
63° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 63°
Oxford
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 61°
Starkville
Partly Cloudy
64° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 64°
After such a unseasonably cool, dry start to your Wednesday, temperatures will heat up pretty quickly. Humidity remains relatively low, keeping rain out of the forecast. But it does return quickly into late-week, ramping rain chances up as we approach the weekend.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather