Whitaker will not recuse himself in Mueller probe despite ethics advice: reports

Ethics officials at the Department of Justice (DOJ) reportedly advised acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing 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 investigation into Russia's election interference, but Whitaker does not plan to do so.

The Washington Post and CNN reported that ethics officials advised Whitaker to recuse himself in the investigation for the sake of appearances.

Earlier reports that said Justice Department ethics officials told him he did not need to step aside from the investigation.

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The DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill on Thursday after The Associated Press and CNN, citing an anonymous source familiar with the matter, reported that Whitaker did not need to recuse.

Both CNN and The Washington Post later reported that a Justice official earlier in the day had indicated that Whitaker did not need to recuse because there was no legal requirement for him to do so. Later, a senior official reportedly told the news outlets that Whitaker was advised to recuse, for reasons of appearance rather than a legal conflict.

Whitaker has been in discussion with DOJ ethics officials since being tapped for the role in November. It is not clear when Whitaker will make an official announcement about the recusal, although it may be later Thursday.

Trump tapped Whitaker to be the acting attorney general in November after announcing that former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits McCabe wins back full FBI pension after being fired under Trump Overnight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability MORE had resigned. 

The decision meant that Whitaker, who has publicly criticized certain elements of the Mueller investigation, would now oversee it. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had been overseeing the probe since Sessions recused himself in early 2017. 

Rosenstein later dismissed concerns over Whitaker’s appointment, saying the investigation will continue to be "handled appropriately."

Several Democratic lawmakers raised concerns about Whitaker's oversight of the Mueller probe based on his previous comments. 

"What raises my concerns is a person that's been so vocal against the investigation that was going on is [put] in charge a day after the election," Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSanders on Medicare expansion in spending package: 'Its not coming out' Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal Sunday shows preview: CDC signs off on 'mix and match' vaccine boosters MORE (D-W.Va.) said in November. "I think that gives concern to every senator, Democrat and Republican. We are a country — the rule of law is everything."

Earlier this month, Trump nominated William Barr to be the next attorney general on a permanent basis. Barr would oversee the Russia investigation if confirmed. 

--This report was updated at 6:15 p.m.