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Meet Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, a Critic of the Mueller Investigation

by Axios | 11.7.18

President Trump has tapped Justice Department chief of staff Matthew Whitaker over Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to serve as acting attorney general in the wake of Jeff Sessions' resignation until a permanent replacement is made.

Why it matters: The DOJ oversees Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into potential Russian collusion during the 2016 elections. Traditionally, the Senate-confirmed deputy attorney general, in this case Rod Rosenstein, would step in as acting Attorney General in the event of a top vacancy. Trump has instead chosen his own pick, which is likely to raise questions about whether the White House seeks to have Whitaker take a more hard-lined stance on the investigation. Whittaker has spoken unfavorably about the investigation, writing in a CNN op-ed last year that the investigation was "going too far" and risked becoming a "mere witch hunt" if Mueller began looking into Trump's finances.

The background: Whitaker was formerly a U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa and ran for Senate in Iowa in 2014, but lost in a primary to Joni Ernst. He played college football at the University of Iowa, where he also played tight end and went to the Rose Bowl, according to the New York Times.

  • Whitaker is considered a Trump loyalist, and "has served as what one White House aide called a 'balm' on the relationship between the president and the Justice Department," the New York Times' Katie Benner and Maggie Haberman have reported.
  • White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has called Whitaker the White House's " eyes and ears" into the DOJ, per the Times.
  • He's been floated before — as a replacement for Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and White House counsel Don McGahn.

What to watch: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has already called for Whitaker's recusal from the Mueller probe. We're likely to see more of this from Democrats who will soon gain the power of subpoena in the House, as they won the majority last night, and are expected to launch a slew of investigations of their own into Trump and Russia relations.


Written by Axios

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