No clarity on whether Whitaker sought ethics advice on potential conflicts in Russia probe

President Donald Trump's interim pick to head the Justice Department has been on the job for four weeks, but...

Posted: Dec 5, 2018 8:15 AM
Updated: Dec 5, 2018 8:15 AM

President Donald Trump's interim pick to head the Justice Department has been on the job for four weeks, but Matthew Whitaker has been noticeably silent about how he is handling any potential conflicts of interest while guiding the department through one of the most politically charged environments in decades.

For now, officials in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's office continue to handle management of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, but Whitaker's ability to pull rank as the acting attorney general and overrule Rosenstein's judgment may prove crucial in coming weeks as the investigation winds down -- leading to mounting questions about what steps Whitaker has taken, or not taken, to heed any ethics advice after now serving 28 days as the nation's top law enforcement officer.

Continents and regions

Eastern Europe

Ethics

Europe

Government and public administration

Investigations

Matt Whitaker

Political Figures - US

Politics

Robert Mueller

Russia

Russia meddling investigation

Society

Government bodies and offices

Government departments and authorities

Government organizations - US

Justice departments

Law and legal system

US Congress

US Senate

Crime, law enforcement and corrections

Law enforcement

US Department of Justice

US federal departments and agencies

Donald Trump

Rod Rosenstein

Jeff Sessions

US federal government

White House

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee renewed their concerns Tuesday, writing in a letter to Justice officials that Whitaker's financial disclosure forms were only recently certified as true by ethics officials (after multiple revisions), and moreover "the Department has not produced prior versions of Mr. Whitaker's financial disclosures, any ethics agreements he entered into with the Department, or any other ethics-related counseling he has received."

Also on Tuesday, hundreds of former Justice Department officials signed on to an open letter voicing their unease about his appointment and noting he "has not been fully vetted for any potential conflicts of interest."

Questions began soon after Whitaker's appointment last month, as his past skepticism of Mueller's work resurfaced, along with his personal tie to one of the witnesses in the probe -- all of which prompted calls for him to step aside from direct oversight of the investigation. The Justice Department, in turn, issued a broad statement suggesting that Whitaker would consult with ethics officials as he deemed necessary, but the department stopped short of confirming that he had, in fact, begun seeking ethics guidance on any possible conflicts.

"Acting AG 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," Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec told CNN on November 12.

It is not uncommon for the Justice Department to decline to discuss recusal issues when doing so may confirm the existence of certain investigations that are not yet public, but its steadfast refusal to confirm whether Whitaker has even initiated an ethics review has raised eyebrows.

"The whole point of the ethics rules is to ensure that government officials are working in the public interest free from conflicts. With every passing day, DOJ's silence undermines public confidence in the rule of law," Austin Evers, executive director of the watchdog organization American Oversight, told CNN. "The ethics analysis for Matthew Whitaker should be straightforward and it should be done by now."

While calls for information have been met with radio silence at the department thus far, Whitaker's private conversations with lawmakers have confirmed he has no intention of stepping aside.

After meeting with Whitaker on Capitol Hill just before Thanksgiving, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters that Whitaker "believed he did not have a reason to recuse himself legally or factually."

Under Justice Department regulations, an employee must not participate in a criminal investigation if he has "a personal or political relationship" with any person or organization that is "substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation" or could be "directly affected" by its outcome.

Whitaker's predecessor, Jeff Sessions, recused himself in March 2017 from any investigation related to Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. White House officials, however, believe that Whitaker's situation differs from his former boss', because Sessions was a Trump campaign surrogate, whereas Whitaker's past interviews and writings on Mueller do not rise to the same level, in their view.

But in a few weeks, when Democrats take the reins in the House, Whitaker may face increasing pressure to answer these ethics-related questions.

Reps. Jerry Nadler of New York and Elijah Cummings of Maryland -- key Democrats slated to lead the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, respectively -- spoke to Whitaker by phone late last week, and while sources briefed on the call said the acting attorney general provided little information, one Democratic aide said the House Judiciary Committee expects him to answer questions fully in January.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 77565

Reported Deaths: 3105
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion16304733
Lake7840283
Elkhart499287
Allen4103164
St. Joseph368183
Hamilton2941104
Vanderburgh208215
Hendricks1972109
Cass18099
Johnson1800119
Porter139139
Clark133350
Tippecanoe126312
Madison104866
LaPorte95730
Howard93865
Kosciusko87212
Bartholomew84447
Floyd83750
Marshall80123
Monroe77732
Delaware76852
Vigo75213
Dubois71812
Noble70829
Boone70446
Hancock69439
Jackson6065
Warrick60030
Shelby57228
LaGrange56910
Grant53230
Dearborn52228
Morgan49235
Henry46020
Clinton4564
Wayne40210
White38011
Montgomery36321
Lawrence35827
Harrison35524
Decatur34732
Putnam3288
Daviess28420
Miami2792
Scott27810
Jasper2592
Greene25634
Franklin24915
Gibson2434
DeKalb2424
Jennings23212
Ripley2208
Steuben2173
Fayette2057
Carroll2033
Perry18813
Posey1810
Starke1817
Orange17924
Wabash1795
Wells1782
Fulton1742
Jefferson1722
Knox1681
Whitley1606
Tipton15416
Sullivan1521
Washington1481
Clay1415
Spencer1393
Randolph1325
Huntington1303
Newton12110
Adams1202
Owen1101
Jay940
Rush914
Pulaski841
Fountain762
Brown752
Blackford662
Pike660
Ohio656
Benton630
Vermillion610
Parke591
Switzerland560
Martin500
Crawford480
Union410
Warren251
Unassigned0207

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 105426

Reported Deaths: 3755
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin19124533
Cuyahoga13999519
Hamilton9917260
Lucas5544324
Montgomery4544101
Summit3712224
Butler307064
Marion295245
Mahoning2644258
Pickaway240442
Stark1931142
Warren187739
Lorain186777
Columbiana169960
Trumbull1578111
Fairfield144933
Delaware137819
Licking136751
Clark121815
Lake115443
Wood110158
Clermont98111
Medina97736
Miami88139
Allen81746
Tuscarawas80114
Portage78063
Greene74212
Mercer66813
Belmont62826
Richland62612
Erie61928
Ashtabula58046
Madison58010
Wayne56759
Geauga56545
Ross5204
Darke42529
Huron4135
Hancock4103
Sandusky40717
Ottawa40527
Athens3642
Holmes3316
Lawrence3230
Auglaize2866
Union2771
Scioto2601
Muskingum2561
Seneca2424
Jefferson2403
Preble2192
Shelby2194
Knox2189
Putnam21517
Washington21222
Coshocton1999
Champaign1922
Morrow1852
Hardin18012
Crawford1775
Clinton1746
Highland1692
Logan1692
Perry1643
Fulton1581
Ashland1563
Defiance1554
Wyandot1559
Brown1502
Williams1393
Fayette1260
Henry1242
Hocking1229
Guernsey1217
Carroll1145
Monroe9418
Pike800
Gallia781
Jackson780
Van Wert732
Paulding720
Adams682
Meigs630
Vinton322
Morgan310
Harrison261
Noble190
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Broken Clouds
84° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 88°
Angola
Broken Clouds
70° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 70°
Huntington
Broken Clouds
84° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 88°
Decatur
Overcast
82° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 86°
Van Wert
Broken Clouds
86° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 90°
Weekend Storm Chances
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events