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Grassley downplays concerns over Whitaker

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley downplayed concerns raised by Democrats on multiple fronts about conflicts of interest involving acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker or that Whitaker might interfere in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Posted: Nov 14, 2018 2:32 PM
Updated: Nov 14, 2018 3:01 PM

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley on Tuesday downplayed concerns raised by Democrats on multiple fronts about conflicts of interest involving acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker or that Whitaker might interfere in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Grassley and other senior Republicans said they were confident Whitaker would get clearance from ethics officials at the Justice Department, and they rebuffed Democratic calls for hauling Whitaker up to Capitol Hill to testify.

"I heard over TV or radio that Whitaker is going to ask the ethics people whether he should be recused. I think that answers it," the Iowa Republican said. "Doesn't matter what the Democrats think. If he is going through that process that's going to answer that question."

Asked if Whitaker, who met recently with Grassley, provided assurances he would not interfere in the Mueller investigation, Grassley said President Donald Trump has made that assurance and that's what matters.

"It seems to me that the President is the chief executive and the President said that he wasn't going to do that," Grassley said. "Doesn't matter what Whitaker thinks. The President said it isn't going to be done."

Grassley's backing comes as Democrats have demanded that Whitaker recuse himself in the Mueller probe over his past comments criticizing the investigation -- and newly empowered House Democrats have signaled they will investigate Jeff Sessions' firing and Whitaker's appointment when they take power in January.

Democrats and others have also argued that Whitaker's appointment may not be lawful because he was never confirmed by the Senate. Maryland's Attorney General Brian Frosh filed a court challenge Tuesday to replace Whitaker with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as acting attorney general.

"No matter what the Trump Justice Department says, there is no acceptable justification for this appointment," said Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat. "Even conservative justices on the Supreme Court have essentially made that argument."

On Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent Grassley two letters calling for hearings with Whitaker and Sessions. "The circumstances surrounding Attorney General Sessions' departure raise serious questions, including whether the appointment is lawful and the possible impact on Special Counsel Mueller's investigation," Feinstein wrote.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, said he hopes "Whitaker's time as acting AG is extraordinarily brief," calling on the President to pick a well-qualified candidate sooner rather than later.

Grassley said a hearing with Whitaker was "under consideration," and he hadn't made a decision yet. But the Iowa Republican also noted he was not concerned about past remarks from Whitaker that were critical of the Mueller investigation.

"As long as he made them as a private citizen, no," Grassley said.

Other Republicans on the Judiciary panel said Whitaker should not testify.

"I don't see an advantage to doing that," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, adding that Democrats would likely try "to smear him -- there may be some who may like to do that."

Hatch told CNN that he's not concerned that Whitaker will act improperly with the Mueller probe. "Anybody who acts improperly will find themselves on the front page and not be in very good shape," he said. "He's going to be in a very tough position and people are going to watch him very carefully."

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told CNN that he hadn't yet spoken to Whitaker, and said it "would be a mistake" for him to interfere with the Mueller probe. But Cornyn added: "I think Director Mueller needs to wrap this thing up. He needs to finish his job. This thing has been hanging out there for a long time. Certainly I would think he's got virtually all the information he needs in order to make a decision and write a report."

Cornyn added he was not interested in the attorney general job.

Push for bill to protect Mueller

Democrats and a handful of Republicans are renewing a push for legislation to protect Mueller in the wake of Whitaker's appointment.

Leahy said he wanted stand-alone legislation, asserting that many Republicans privately agree that Whitaker might try to shape the Russia investigation.

The special counsel legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in the spring, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear he doesn't intend to bring it to the floor for a vote, a position the Kentucky Republican reiterated last week in the wake of Sessions' firing.

Sen. Jeff Flake, the retiring Arizona Republican senator, tweeted that he would seek unanimous consent to vote on the bill on the Senate floor this week. But that effort is likely to be objected to, stopping it from going anywhere.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that Democrats would also try to attach legislation protecting the special counsel to the must-pass spending bill that Congress needs to pass during the lame-duck session. Schumer also said that Congress wanted to be notified of the results of Whitaker's meetings with ethics officials.

"Mr. Whitaker has prejudged the outcome of an investigation he now oversees," Schumer said.

Grassley, who helped broker a compromise on the legislation in the committee, said he supports the Mueller bill, but deferred to McConnell about moving it to the full Senate.

"The answer is, if it comes for a vote, I will vote for that bill. Whether it comes to a vote is up to the leader and I'm going to respect the leader's right to bring it up," he said.

Finally, Grassley said he will have an answer "in a few days" on whether he will remain chairman of the Judiciary Committee or move over to be chair of the Finance Committee, something that would be available to him with Hatch retiring.

He said he needs to consult his GOP colleagues before deciding.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 113876

Reported Deaths: 3238
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7850176
DeSoto685779
Harrison505083
Jackson445084
Rankin388186
Madison377993
Lee350779
Forrest299578
Jones287784
Washington255199
Lafayette245943
Lauderdale2418134
Lamar221238
Bolivar200177
Oktibbeha199354
Neshoba1831111
Lowndes176362
Panola169038
Leflore165187
Sunflower159749
Warren153655
Monroe147372
Pontotoc145819
Marshall139227
Lincoln138557
Pike137756
Copiah136236
Coahoma124736
Scott124729
Grenada121138
Yazoo120733
Simpson120449
Union116525
Tate114939
Leake114340
Holmes114160
Pearl River112259
Itawamba112125
Adams106743
Prentiss103719
Wayne99821
Alcorn98112
George97718
Covington95326
Marion93542
Tippah88121
Newton85227
Chickasaw83626
Tallahatchie83025
Winston82821
Tishomingo80041
Hancock79827
Attala78926
Clarke73450
Clay68321
Jasper67717
Walthall63627
Calhoun61912
Noxubee59617
Smith58916
Montgomery53523
Claiborne53316
Tunica52817
Yalobusha51914
Lawrence50714
Perry48623
Carroll47612
Greene46918
Stone46214
Humphreys42616
Amite42113
Quitman4196
Jefferson Davis40011
Webster37013
Wilkinson33520
Benton3255
Kemper32015
Sharkey28014
Jefferson27410
Franklin2373
Choctaw2046
Issaquena1074
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 155915

Reported Deaths: 2674
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22861374
Mobile14468314
Tuscaloosa10148139
Montgomery9875196
Madison915094
Shelby720462
Lee649665
Baldwin647569
Marshall433049
Calhoun418960
Etowah418749
Morgan403635
Houston369232
DeKalb330229
Elmore314852
St. Clair287142
Limestone276530
Walker272293
Talladega261035
Cullman235724
Lauderdale214841
Jackson210015
Autauga202330
Franklin202131
Colbert196731
Russell19233
Blount189325
Dallas186227
Chilton184132
Escambia171929
Coffee171710
Covington169929
Dale165451
Chambers133643
Pike132313
Tallapoosa130587
Clarke130017
Marion106229
Butler100140
Barbour9979
Marengo99222
Winston91313
Geneva8527
Pickens82417
Lawrence82131
Randolph81216
Bibb81114
Hale74930
Clay72912
Cherokee72614
Lowndes70328
Monroe64010
Henry6396
Bullock63717
Washington63412
Crenshaw60230
Perry5836
Wilcox56212
Fayette56113
Conecuh55713
Cleburne5438
Macon52920
Sumter47021
Lamar4665
Choctaw38812
Greene34216
Coosa2023
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