Whitaker rejected ethics official's advice he should recuse from Russia probe

Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker disregarded the advice of a Justice Department ethics official to step...

Posted: Dec 22, 2018 8:31 AM
Updated: Dec 22, 2018 8:31 AM

Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker disregarded the advice of a Justice Department ethics official to step aside from overseeing Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Whitaker never sought a formal recommendation about whether he needed to recuse, but he received guidance on his options and the applicable rules during three meetings with ethics officials and multiple discussions with his own advisers, according to a senior department source and a letter from the Justice Department to Congress Thursday night.

Continents and regions

Eastern Europe

Europe

Government and public administration

Investigations

Matt Whitaker

Political Figures - US

Politics

Russia

Russia meddling investigation

Donald Trump

Law and legal system

Robert Mueller

Ethics

Society

Bill Barr

Government bodies and offices

Government departments and authorities

Government organizations - US

Justice departments

US Congress

US Department of Justice

US federal departments and agencies

US federal government

US Senate

White House

The decision to make was Whitaker's alone and came the same day news emerged that Trump's nominee to take the permanent job, Bill Barr, wrote the Justice Department last year to argue against the Mueller investigation, raising concerns on Capitol Hill that the President is selecting leaders based on their alignment with his critical view of the Russia probe and will seek to undercut the special counsel.

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the Mueller investigation in favor of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein -- to the constant annoyance of President Donald Trump -- because Sessions had been an active participant on the Trump campaign.

Some of Whitaker's comments about Mueller in 2017 mirrored Trump's complaints. In one instance, speaking on the "Rose Unplugged" radio program in August 2017, Whitaker said the appointment of Mueller was "ridiculous" and it "smells a little fishy."

"For whatever reason, Rod Rosenstein determined that the Department of Justice couldn't handle this in their ordinary course of work, which I think was ridiculous," Whitaker said. "So I think it smells a little fishy, but I just hope it doesn't turn into a fishing expedition, because I will be one of [the people] jumping up and down making sure the limitations on this investigation continue because that's the way it's supposed to be."

While ethics officials said there was no legal conflict of interest that would bar Whitaker from overseeing Mueller, the Justice Department letter states, it could look bad in the eyes of the public.

"If a recommendation were sought" from ethics officials, the letter states, "they would advise that the Acting Attorney General should recuse himself from supervision of the Special Counsel investigation because it was their view that a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts likely would question the impartiality of the Acting Attorney General."

While the process was ongoing, Whitaker was never briefed on the Mueller investigation, the senior Justice source told CNN. But Whitaker was given a heads up that Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen would plead guilty to lying to Congress about the proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow before it was publicly announced.

It is expected he will be briefed as acting attorney general now that he has stated his position on recusal.

Rosenstein's office is still managing the investigation on a day-to-day basis, as CNN has previously reported.

Whitaker's thinking

A Justice official initially told CNN that Whitaker was advised that he did not need to recuse. But a different picture soon emerged from the senior Justice official close to the process, who described how ethics officials noted there could be an appearance of a conflict based on Whitaker's past public comments about the investigation.

The ethics official did tell Whitaker's office the verdict was a "close call," according to a source and the letter to Congress.

Whitaker was of the mind that if it were deemed a close call, he did not want to bind his successors in a situation where there was only an appearance, not an actual legal conflict, according to the senior DOJ official close to the process.

In explaining Whitaker's thinking, the letter noted that Whitaker has not made public comments about the investigation for 16 months, Whitaker has "a lot of respect" for Mueller and said Mueller would "only go after legitimate targets."

The letter also pointed to comments Whitaker made to South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, that he did not see a reason to fire the special counsel or believe the investigation "breached any Department guidelines."

Attention turns to Barr

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers are turning their attention to William "Bill" Barr, whom Trump has nominated to be the next attorney general on a permanent basis.

If confirmed, Barr would oversee the Mueller investigation, though his recently surfaced belief that Trump's interactions with ex-FBI Director James Comey would not constitute obstruction of justice triggered an outcry from Democrats Thursday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demanded Trump withdraw the nomination.

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement that the Barr memo was "very troubling" and contended it meant Barr had argued "the President is above the law."

"We need answers as to why Barr proactively drafted this memo and then shared it with the deputy attorney general and President Trump's lawyers," read the statement from the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN he wants President Trump to "withdraw" the nomination of Barr in the aftermath of news of the memo showing Barr raising concerns about the Mueller probe, and he also sharply criticized the decision by Whitaker to not recuse from the Mueller probe.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 613228

Reported Deaths: 9728
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion846851338
Lake45676687
Allen32980552
Hamilton29649315
St. Joseph27531382
Elkhart24478345
Vanderburgh19610250
Tippecanoe18108141
Johnson15191295
Porter14944169
Hendricks14485250
Madison11044222
Clark10811144
Vigo10795181
Monroe9458113
Delaware9170134
LaPorte9145164
Howard8292144
Kosciusko810183
Warrick680299
Hancock6782104
Bartholomew6640100
Floyd6507110
Wayne6177162
Grant6027116
Dubois558680
Boone556468
Morgan548695
Henry511464
Marshall506984
Cass486964
Dearborn486545
Noble475659
Jackson427747
Shelby420781
Lawrence393780
Clinton375044
Gibson374459
Harrison353045
DeKalb349864
Montgomery347654
Knox336239
Miami324544
Steuben315046
Whitley311126
Wabash305851
Adams302836
Ripley300546
Putnam298950
Huntington294860
Jasper291734
White275143
Daviess271774
Jefferson266238
Decatur249583
Fayette248648
Greene242262
Posey241028
Wells236951
LaGrange230062
Scott226839
Clay224332
Randolph215248
Jennings200636
Sullivan193533
Spencer193022
Washington188023
Fountain184927
Starke176444
Jay168623
Owen167637
Fulton164830
Orange160935
Carroll159715
Rush156318
Perry155929
Vermillion149734
Franklin149333
Tipton133133
Parke13088
Pike118526
Blackford111822
Pulaski97837
Newton92021
Brown88335
Benton87110
Crawford8099
Martin74913
Warren6857
Switzerland6695
Union6297
Ohio4977
Unassigned0376

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 868656

Reported Deaths: 10768
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin102154707
Cuyahoga865201153
Hamilton64744448
Montgomery43516419
Summit35250762
Lucas31663631
Butler31268232
Stark26096443
Warren19830142
Lorain19296229
Mahoning17471339
Lake16250154
Clermont16128112
Delaware1453680
Licking13326137
Fairfield1294981
Trumbull12920317
Greene12174141
Medina11732168
Clark11058265
Wood10457158
Allen9988127
Portage9454111
Miami924473
Richland9236118
Marion7486113
Tuscarawas7440183
Columbiana7409124
Pickaway732150
Wayne7111172
Muskingum710342
Erie6221130
Ross5558100
Hancock555292
Scioto542764
Geauga515955
Darke473492
Lawrence460658
Union456928
Ashtabula456473
Sandusky439562
Mercer435089
Seneca433866
Huron432841
Auglaize424164
Shelby422522
Jefferson422469
Belmont421145
Washington394240
Athens38389
Putnam378075
Madison358129
Knox356122
Ashland349038
Fulton340443
Defiance334486
Crawford325774
Preble322737
Brown315821
Logan312132
Ottawa296543
Clinton291543
Williams280367
Highland279018
Jackson265845
Guernsey257126
Champaign253428
Fayette239530
Morrow23464
Perry233718
Holmes226774
Henry221953
Hardin215533
Coshocton206922
Van Wert203445
Gallia199826
Wyandot196751
Pike178017
Adams177715
Hocking173224
Carroll157616
Paulding145321
Noble121040
Meigs109724
Monroe102232
Harrison89921
Morgan83931
Vinton71314
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
27° wxIcon
Hi: 33° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 17°
Angola
Cloudy
23° wxIcon
Hi: 31° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 23°
Huntington
Cloudy
27° wxIcon
Hi: 33° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 21°
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
27° wxIcon
Hi: 33° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 17°
Lima
Cloudy
28° wxIcon
Hi: 27° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 19°
More Clouds than Sun Wednesday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events