Wednesday, 14 Nov 2018
News

Acting Attorney General says not to have the intention to withdraw from Russia's investigation

Matthew G. Whitaker, seen here in 2014, was appointed Acting Attorney General on Wednesday. (Charlie Neibergall / AP) Devlin Barrett Reporter specializing in national security and law enforcement Matt Zapotosky National security reporter covering the Department of Justice November 8 at 6:52 pm Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker, n & n Is not planning to recuse himself to monitor the investigation led by the special advocate In the 2016 elections, relatives of him added that they did not think that he was going to be the best. he would approve a subpoena of President Trump as part of this investigation. Since he took office on Wednesday, Whitaker has been confronted with questions – mostly from Democrats – as to whether he should recuse himself from the investigation of Russia, knowing that he wrote opinion articles on the investigation and that he is the friend and political ally of a grand jury. . On Thursday, two close to Whitaker said that he was not considering withdrawing from the case concerning Russia. They also stated that he was deeply skeptical of any attempt to force the testimony of the president by subpoena. Special advocate Robert S. Mueller III has been negotiating with Trump's lawyers for months on the conditions for a possible interview with the president. The central idea of ​​these discussions is that Mueller could, if the negotiations fail, assign the president to appear. If Whitaker removed the threat of subpoena, it could change the balance between the two parties and significantly reduce the chances of the President attending an interview. In the Department of Justice, ethics officials typically review past work of senior officials to determine if they have financial or personal conflicts that would prevent them from overseeing particular cases. In the past, senior Justice Department officials tended to follow such advice, but they are rarely required to do so, according to officials familiar with the process. "The tradition, across the administrations of both political parties, has been that senior DOJ officials consult with professional ethics officials on issues of recusal," said Matthew Axelrod, senior department head under the Obama administration. "Here, to avoid irreparable damage to the integrity of the institution, it is essential to follow the normal procedure." A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment. Officials said Whitaker would follow the usual procedure to deal with potential ethical issues. On Thursday night, Democratic Attorneys General of 17 states and the District wrote to Whitaker to ask him to withdraw from the investigation on Russia. "As law enforcement officials in our respective states, we ask that you deny yourself any role in overseeing the investigation by Special Advocate Robert Mueller into Russia's interference in the administration of the law. 2016 presidential election, "wrote the Democratic Attorney General. "Because a reasonable person might question your impartiality, your challenge is necessary to maintain public confidence in the integrity of the investigation and to protect the essential and lasting independence of the public. department that you have been chosen to lead on an interim basis. "In 2014, Whitaker presided over the campaign of Sam Clovis, Republican candidate for the position of Treasurer of the State of Iowa. Clovis then worked as a Trump campaign advisor and became a witness in the investigation led by Mueller. The Department of Justice advises employees that "in general, an employee should seek the advice of an ethics officer before taking part in any matter that may call into question her impartiality". The regulations prohibit employees from "participating, without written authorization, in an investigation or criminal prosecution if they have personal or political relations with any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the complaint. 39, investigation or prosecution. " [Sessions’s ouster throws future of special-counsel probe into question] Clovis said Wednesday that Whitaker was a friend and that he had sent congratulations to Whitaker on Wednesday after becoming Attorney General. If asked, ethics officials would wonder if Clovis would be considered "substantially involved" in conducting the Mueller investigation. With respect to his opinion columns, Whitaker could state that he had taken a stand before knowing all the factual and legal circumstances of the case and that it was therefore it is not necessary to resort to recusation. Ethics officials may always be able to inform him that his commentary has created the appearance of a conflict of interest, while leaving him the decision. If they strongly recommended that he recuse himself and that he refused, Whitaker could then be returned to the Office of Professional Liability of the Department of Justice and his license to practice law. could be blamed. The White House is not concerned about Whitaker's earlier comments, said a senior White House official. He was at the White House Thursday afternoon for a meeting on immigration. Trump is aware that Whitaker has criticized the investigation of Russia, said the official, adding that his comments were consistent with the position of the President. It is unlikely that Whitaker will get the job permanently, said the manager. Whitaker became the highest-ranking US law enforcement officer after Wednesday's ousting of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. The sessions had suffered months of public violence from Trump, who had been trapped because he had recused himself after overseeing the investigation of Russia shortly after his arrival. at the Ministry of Justice. Sessions felt that Mueller's investigation had lasted too long, but that it was also important that he remain as attorney general in order to protect the work of the special council so that the public had the assurance that it was not handled, according to a person familiar with Sessions thinking. Even after his arrival at the Department of Justice, Mr. Whitaker expressed his frustration at the length of the investigation and his doubts about the extent of Mueller 's authority, said a close associate. of the case. He questioned the ability of Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to give Mueller so much latitude and wanted to explore the limits of what Mueller was examining, although Rosenstein kept the Sessions office "under the wall," said this person. Whitaker, however, felt that the sessions had no choice but to recuse themselves, he said. [‘A biblical view of justice’: Whitaker once said judges shouldn’t have a secular worldview] Rosenstein and Whitaker have looked at each other cautiously in recent months, people familiar with the subject said. When Rosenstein was nearly ousted from his post after rumors that he would have suggested surreptitiously recording the president, Whitaker was invited to take the Rosenstein post. But after a visit to the White House, Rosenstein retained his post, leaving people from the Department of Justice – including Whitaker – mystified about what happened, said these people. Rosenstein and Whitaker were both present at the inauguration of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh on Thursday – Whitaker dressed in a "morning suit," which includes a DIY pants, a vest, and a long coat, said people aware. Although Whitaker is now Mueller's ultimate supervisor, it was unclear whether this meant that Rosenstein would retire. Representatives from the Department of Justice stated that under normal circumstances the Deputy Attorney General would likely play an active role in overseeing an investigation of this magnitude and that they had no reason to believe that Rosenstein would now be excluded. Whitaker was virtually unheard of Sessions before becoming his chief of staff, although the executive chairman of the Federalist Society, Leonard Leo, extolled the merits of the former American Iowa attorney as early as the transition, according to a person close to the file. Leo knew Whitaker because both were prominent figures in conservative legal circles and he viewed Whitaker as a true conservative and talented director, said this person. Initially, Sessions chose Jody Hunt, a long-time Justice Department official, as the main collaborator of his office, while Whitaker made his name in Washington via television appearances and his work with the Conservative Foundation. for Accountability and Civic Trust. Although appreciated by Sessions, Hunt ran into Danielle Cutrona, another assistant at the Attorney General's office, so that people around Sessions realized that either should move on, according to informed people. At the beginning of the administration, Hunt was offered a more prestigious position: to lead the civilian division of the Department of Justice. Leo then recommended Whitaker to Cutrona, hoping in part that he would help improve the Department of Justice's relationship with the White House, and Cutrona referred the recommendation to the sessions, the community said. A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice, speaking for Hunt and Cutrona, disputed the fact that Hunt left as chief of staff because of Cutrona and that Whitaker's arrival on board was directly related to the departure of Hunt . "The two parties involved in your story deny that this happened," said the spokeswoman. The sessions convened Whitaker for an interview and enjoyed it, said people familiar with the subject. As chief of staff, Whitaker has been a hard-nosed assistant, imposing on the Department of Justice his personal philosophy of starting from the goal, according to those who worked with him. His style rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and sometimes Justice Department officials backed down on his requests. Ministry officials said it was embarrassing to take the lead of his supervisor because chiefs of staff usually go to the Attorney General's office. Trump, many weeks ago, talked to Whitaker about replacing the Attorney General as a prosecutor. The latter was surprised when the discussion was reported in the Washington Post. On Wednesday evening, the sessions brought together dozens of senior officials from the Ministry of Justice in the Attorney General's conference room, according to a person familiar with the matter. He talked about liking the job and explained that his dismissal was something that happened to every attorney general, the person said. He also said that he thought Whitaker would carry the torch, said the person. In a note sent Thursday to Justice Department staff, Sessions wrote: "Whatever your role in the ministry and whatever your task, I hope you'll remember that you help us in our mission protection of the American people. and the rights that are dear to us. Sari Horwitz contributed to this report. .

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