- Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker will consult with top DOJ ethics officials about whether he should recuse himself from the Russia investigation, a department spokesperson said.
- The news is significant – Whitaker has a long history of making controversial and antagonistic remarks about the special counsel Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation which throw his independence into question.
- If Whitaker were to recuse himself, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would resume oversight of the Russia investigation.
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker will consult with ethics officials at the Department of Justice (DOJ) about whether a recusal from overseeing the Russia investigation is warranted, according to a DOJ spokesperson.
“Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is fully committed to following all appropriate processes and procedures at the Department of Justice, including consulting with senior ethics officials on his oversight responsibilities and matters that may warrant recusal,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
The news is significant – it comes after a steady stream of revelations about Whitaker’s history of making antagonistic comments about the Russia investigation and the special counsel Robert Mueller. If Whitaker were to recuse himself, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would resume oversight of the investigation. Though DOJ officials typically follow the recommendations of ethics officials, they are not required to do so.
Mueller is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election, whether members of President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow, and whether Trump sought to obstruct justice after he learned of the investigation’s existence last year.
Trump last week ousted then Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him with Whitaker following months of resentment toward Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the investigation last year. Trump took a liking to Whitaker after he saw him on CNN last year criticising Mueller and espousing more partisan views about the Russia investigation.
Once described as the West Wing’s “eyes and ears” in the Justice Department, Whitaker has publicly mused about gutting the Russia investigation. As recently as last week, it was believed that Whitaker does not plan to recuse himself from overseeing the inquiry, and The Washington Post also reported that if Mueller wanted to subpoena the president, Whitaker would not allow it.
Among other things, Whitaker wrote in a CNN op-ed article last year that Mueller had overstepped his mandate by digging into the Trump Organisation’s finances. He has said, without evidence, that there was “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia. And audio recently resurfaced of Whitaker falsely accusing “the left” of sowing “this theory that essentially Russians interfered with the US election,” a theory he claimed had been disproved and did not affect the election.
While he was Sessions’ chief of staff, Whitaker met with Trump in the Oval Office more than a dozen times, The Washington Post reported, adding that whenever Trump complained about the Russia investigation, Whitaker “often smiled knowingly and nodded in assent.”