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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.

Cases: 484675

Reported Deaths: 9480
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison33151493
Hinds31184589
DeSoto30803365
Jackson23735349
Rankin21390373
Lee14963221
Madison14206272
Jones13430227
Forrest13199241
Lauderdale11623307
Lowndes10501176
Lamar10258130
Pearl River9151221
Lafayette8268137
Hancock7534113
Washington7144152
Oktibbeha6989124
Monroe6533167
Neshoba6489201
Warren6486166
Pontotoc632993
Panola6278127
Marshall6165126
Bolivar6129145
Union576089
Pike5626138
Alcorn540590
Lincoln5310132
George473572
Scott461596
Leflore4495140
Tippah448180
Prentiss447979
Itawamba4457100
Adams4429117
Tate4420103
Wayne434667
Simpson4339114
Copiah432988
Yazoo423686
Covington417192
Sunflower4155104
Marion4111104
Coahoma3986100
Leake398286
Newton372375
Grenada3565104
Stone351360
Tishomingo338389
Attala325987
Jasper316062
Winston305691
Clay297374
Chickasaw287866
Clarke283290
Calhoun267741
Holmes262887
Smith252249
Yalobusha224347
Tallahatchie221150
Walthall211758
Greene209945
Lawrence207034
Perry201054
Amite199452
Webster196942
Noxubee179339
Montgomery172954
Jefferson Davis168342
Carroll162537
Tunica154235
Benton143035
Kemper138840
Choctaw128826
Claiborne127134
Humphreys127038
Franklin116928
Quitman104227
Wilkinson102036
Jefferson91533
Sharkey63020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 790648

Reported Deaths: 14025
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1117431765
Mobile709021237
Madison50032633
Shelby36350315
Baldwin36278495
Tuscaloosa34034548
Montgomery33229678
Lee22712220
Calhoun21297410
Morgan19852335
Etowah19341462
Marshall17716274
Houston16862386
St. Clair15479305
Cullman14659258
Limestone14609188
Elmore14507264
Lauderdale13557281
Talladega13015236
DeKalb12214237
Walker10604330
Blount9735157
Autauga9691137
Jackson9400158
Coffee8934175
Dale8631173
Colbert8545184
Tallapoosa6688181
Escambia6599121
Covington6466167
Chilton6395144
Russell608755
Franklin5805101
Chambers5425134
Marion4818120
Dallas4713189
Clarke464079
Pike463297
Geneva4433117
Winston427395
Lawrence4124108
Bibb410281
Barbour347470
Marengo326485
Monroe320253
Butler318490
Randolph306656
Pickens306474
Henry302658
Hale293085
Cherokee290855
Fayette280373
Washington245548
Crenshaw238770
Cleburne236751
Clay229265
Macon220658
Lamar200443
Conecuh182046
Coosa170835
Lowndes170858
Wilcox159736
Bullock149543
Perry136537
Sumter124736
Greene121443
Choctaw73427
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