Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will no longer oversee Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation after President Trump abruptly fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday and replaced Sessions with his chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, the Department of Justice (DOJ) confirmed Wednesday to The Hill.
“The Acting Attorney General is in charge of all matters under the purview of the Department of Justice,” DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement.
Sessions, who recused himself from overseeing the Mueller probe early last year due to his work on Trump’s campaign, agreed to resign on Wednesday at Trump’s request, according to a copy of his resignation letter.
Trump on Wednesday afternoon announced Whitaker as his temporary replacement.
“Given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation, Mr. Whitaker should recuse himself from its oversight for the duration of his time as acting attorney general,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Americans must have answers immediately as to the reasoning behind @realDonaldTrump removing Jeff Sessions from @TheJusticeDept. Why is the President making this change and who has authority over Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation? We will be holding people accountable,” tweeted Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who is the presumed Democrat to become chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
Given Mr. Whitaker’s public comments on the Special Counsel’s investigation and the President’s obvious self-interest in appointing him to the Acting AG role, Mr. Whitaker should recuse himself. https://t.co/XuRpcT3Gxd
— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) November 7, 2018
Last year, Whitaker said the special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling risked becoming a “witch hunt.”
“If [Mueller] were to continue to investigate the financial relationships without a broadened scope in his appointment, then this would raise serious concerns that the special counsel’s investigation was a mere witch hunt,” Whitaker wrote on CNN.com last August.
In an appearance on CNN last summer, Whitaker predicted that Trump would place pressure on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe, and “try to get Rod to maybe even cut the budget of Bob Mueller.”
“I think what ultimately the president is going to start doing is putting pressure on Rod Rosenstein, who is in charge of this investigation,” Whitaker said, “and really try to get Rod to maybe even cut the budget of Bob Mueller and do something a little more stage crafty than the blunt instrument of firing the attorney general and trying to replace him.”
In his op-ed for CNN a short time after that appearance, Whitaker wrote that any investigation into the president’s personal finances would constitute “a red line” that Mueller is “dangerously close to crossing.”
“It does not take a lawyer or even a former federal prosecutor like myself to conclude that investigating Donald Trump’s finances or his family’s finances falls completely outside of the realm of his 2016 campaign,” he wrote. “That goes beyond the scope of the appointment of the special counsel.”
Whitaker went on to urge Rosenstein “to order Mueller to limit the scope of his investigation to the four corners of the order appointing him special counsel.”
Whitaker also weighed in on news that Donald Trump Jr. had attended a meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. He told CNN at the time: “You would always take the meeting” and “you certainly want to have any advantage, any legal advantage you can” as a political candidate.
On August 6, 2017, Whitaker retweeted an article titled “Note to Trump’s lawyer: Do not cooperate with Mueller lynch mob.”
Whitaker added, “Worth a read.”
— Matt Whitaker 🇺🇸 (@MattWhitaker46) August 7, 2017