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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: 295295

Reported Deaths: 6724
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19672230
Hinds18799386
Harrison16710278
Rankin12685264
Jackson12592226
Lee9687160
Madison9457199
Jones7962146
Forrest7208136
Lauderdale6833226
Lowndes6022137
Lamar588080
Lafayette5733113
Washington5218130
Bolivar4609123
Oktibbeha441393
Panola430394
Pearl River4167130
Warren4129114
Pontotoc408869
Marshall403192
Monroe3989126
Union395374
Neshoba3807168
Lincoln3541102
Hancock347374
Leflore3375118
Sunflower318386
Tate302474
Pike300195
Scott293870
Alcorn291861
Itawamba289975
Yazoo289262
Tippah278765
Copiah277857
Coahoma277568
Simpson274878
Prentiss269758
Wayne253841
Marion252678
Leake252471
Covington248879
Grenada247377
Adams234377
George231745
Newton229652
Winston221675
Jasper213445
Tishomingo212365
Attala206569
Chickasaw201151
Holmes182270
Clay179150
Stone172429
Tallahatchie170539
Clarke169371
Calhoun157828
Smith152731
Yalobusha144836
Greene127633
Walthall124140
Noxubee122829
Montgomery122438
Perry121634
Lawrence120321
Carroll118225
Amite111533
Webster110630
Jefferson Davis101731
Tunica99023
Claiborne98429
Benton93324
Humphreys92827
Kemper90223
Quitman77114
Franklin76119
Choctaw69516
Jefferson62527
Wilkinson62426
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 493769

Reported Deaths: 9931
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson710731374
Mobile36139727
Madison32425455
Tuscaloosa24184410
Montgomery22586500
Shelby21968215
Baldwin19758283
Lee14967153
Morgan13667251
Calhoun13300286
Etowah13184319
Marshall11262209
Houston10104261
Elmore9385185
Limestone9363134
Cullman8897181
St. Clair8827223
Lauderdale8607211
DeKalb8459175
Talladega7523163
Walker6524255
Jackson6495102
Autauga627091
Blount6102127
Colbert6004118
Coffee5249102
Dale4642107
Russell404930
Franklin399177
Covington3960106
Chilton3876100
Escambia377672
Tallapoosa3588142
Clarke343650
Chambers3413110
Dallas3403141
Pike293472
Lawrence283484
Marion281995
Winston246867
Bibb245060
Geneva239970
Marengo236455
Pickens224654
Barbour211651
Hale210568
Fayette200756
Butler196866
Henry182441
Cherokee177038
Monroe166139
Randolph163740
Washington156535
Crenshaw144854
Clay144454
Macon142043
Cleburne137839
Lamar132833
Lowndes131151
Wilcox121825
Bullock116936
Conecuh106724
Perry105627
Sumter98531
Coosa88923
Greene88232
Choctaw55123
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