New acting AG once criticized idea of special counsel

New acting AG once criticized idea of special counsel

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker wrote an op-ed for The Hill last year criticizing calls for a special counsel to investigate possible collusion between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia ahead of the 2016 election. 

“Calls for an independent counsel or commission to investigate allegations that Russia tried to interfere with our elections ring hollow when similar calls for special counsels during the scandals of the Obama administration were dismissed out of hand by the same people making these demands now,” Whitaker wrote in May of last year, when he was executive director of the nonprofit Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust. 

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“Serious, bipartisan congressional investigations into the Russian allegations have been under way for weeks and they have made progress. Hollow calls for independent prosecutors are just craven attempts to score cheap political points and serve the public in no measurable way,” he added.

Whitaker was named acting attorney general Wednesday after former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Democrat stalls Biden's border nominee Garland strikes down Trump-era immigration court rule, empowering judges to pause cases MORE, for whom Whitaker was chief of staff, resigned at President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt MORE’s request. 

Whitaker also wrote an op-ed for CNN last year in which he ripped special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s reported inquiries into Trump’s personal finances and those of his family. 

“This information is deeply concerning to me. It does not take a lawyer or even a former federal prosecutor like myself to conclude that investigating Donald Trump's finances or his family's finances falls completely outside of the realm of his 2016 campaign and allegations that the campaign coordinated with the Russian government or anyone else. That goes beyond the scope of the appointment of the special counsel,” he wrote. 

“It is time for [Deputy Attorney General Rod] 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. This would not only be out of character for a respected figure like Mueller, but also could be damaging to the President of the United States and his family — and by extension, to the country,” he added. 

Mueller was appointed by Rosenstein in May of last year to investigate possible coordination between Trump’s campaign associates and Russian officials during the 2016 presidential race. His inquiry has since branched into several other areas of interest, including obstruction of justice into an existing probe into the possible connections, payments made by Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen and former campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortLobbyist Tony Podesta returns to work for Huawei Former bank CEO convicted of bribery in scheme to land Trump admin job Trial begins for Chicago banker who exchanged loans with Manafort for Trump job MORE’s foreign lobbying.

Whitaker’s past stances on the special counsel have led Democratic leaders to call for him to recuse himself from overseeing the probe, leaving it in Rosenstein’s hands.

“Given his record of threats to undermine & weaken the Russia investigation, Matthew Whitaker should recuse himself from any involvement in Mueller’s investigation. Congress must take immediate action to protect the rule of law and integrity of the investigation. #FollowTheFacts,” House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTim Ryan slams McCarthy for mocking Capitol physician, mask mandate McCarthy knocks Pelosi, mask mandate: 'This House has broken the country's trust' Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal MORE (D-Calif.), who is likely to become Speaker in the next Congress, tweeted Wednesday. 

"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," Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy Pelosi, Schumer vow climate action: 'It is an imperative' MORE (D-N.Y.) echoed in a statement on Wednesday.