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What Will Happen to Mueller Investigation Now that Sessions Was Fired?
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8 Nov 2018 02:11 PM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Robert Mueller (Image source: Screenshot)

 

The big question crossing many minds on Wednesday after Jeff Sessions tendered his resignation at Donald Trump's request was if the acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, could end the special counsel Russia investigation. Here's what Trump's cabinet move means to Robert Mueller's probe. 

Trump was upset with his attorney general since April 2017 when he recused himself from the FBI's Russia investigation. The ball was picked up by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who in turn hired Mueller as the special counsel. With the recused Sessions not in office, the Russia investigation is being pulled from Rosenstein and will be in Whitaker's hands.

 

This puts fear into those who are looking for Mueller's investigation to call out Donald Trump and his campaign for Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney in Iowa during the George W. Bush administration, is a known critic of Mueller's work. He has been Sessions' chief of staff since October 2017. 

Whitaker can indeed take control from Rosenstein and can even fire Mueller, but he's also bound by Justice Department regulations that restrict the conditions under which he can do this.

 

These regulations state that the attorney general, or acting attorney general in this case, can only remove a special counsel "for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies."  

Under these regulations, Whitaker would need to tell Mueller in writing, with specific details to his reasoning, why he was firing him.

 

Before even getting to that step, Democrats in Congress, along with liberal advocacy groups, are demanding that Whitaker recuse himself.  

The senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), said in a statement, "No one who lacks Senate confirmation should be placed in charge of this investigation, especially Matthew Whitaker who publically [sic] criticized Robert Mueller's work just last year."

 

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, issued a statement that read it would be "wholly inappropriate for Mr. Whitaker to supervise the Special Counsel investigation given his documented history of opposition to it." 

With Whitaker taking over just hours after the Democrats won the majority in the House, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said, "Congress must take bipartisan action to protect the integrity of Special Counsel Mueller's investigation."

 

"Given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation, Mr. Whitaker should recuse himself from its oversight for the duration of his time as acting attorney general," added Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in a statement. 

Whitaker issued his own statement Wednesday night referring to his former boss, Sessions, as a "dedicated public servant" and stating it was a "true honor that the president has confidence in my ability to lead the Department of Justice as acting attorney general."

 

"I am committed to leading a fair Department with the highest ethical standards, that upholds the rule of law and seeks justice for all Americans. I will work with our colleagues in Federal, State, local, and tribal leadership, including our partners in law enforcement and our U.S. attorneys, to ensure the safety of all Americans and the security of the nation," he continued. 

He did not make any reference to the special counsel's Russia investigation.

 

Before Mueller was appointed by Rosenstein, Whitaker, who was not with the DOJ at that time, believed Democrat calls for a special counsel were "hollow" because "scandals" from the Obama administration were not addressed in this manner. 

A few months later he wrote an op-ed for CNN where he was concerned Mueller's office was overstepping its boundaries investigating the Trump organization and the president's family. That said, not being part of the DOJ at the time, he  presumably had no inside information and didn't know what reasons Mueller could have had to spread the investigation in that direction.

 

It has been widely believed that Mueller will be releasing his report very soon. With the Cabinet moves, it puts more urgency into this.  

There has also been thought that Trump was secretly subpoenaed last August and has been fighting it in court since. This whole thing may be way past just waiting for a report, meaning Whitaker is being installed not to stop the report but possibly to put an end to the chances of Trump testifying before a grand jury.

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