Dems Seek to Protect Mueller Probe 11/12 06:24
Stepping up Democratic efforts to shield the Russia investigation, Senate
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would seek to tie a measure protecting
special counsel Robert Mueller to must-pass legislation if acting attorney
general Matthew Whitaker does not recuse himself from oversight of the probe.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Stepping up Democratic efforts to shield the Russia
investigation, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would seek to tie a
measure protecting special counsel Robert Mueller to must-pass legislation if
acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker does not recuse himself from oversight
of the probe.
"Democrats in the House and Senate are going to attempt to put on must-pass
legislation, mainly the spending bill, legislation that would prevent Whitaker
from interfering in any way with the Mueller investigation," Schumer told The
Associated Press Sunday.
Schumer said keeping Whitaker in charge of the investigation would create a
"constitutional crisis" and said if he doesn't recuse himself, Democrats would
push to introduce legislation to protect Mueller's investigation.
Schumer sent a letter to the Justice Department on Sunday along with House
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats that calls for Lee
Lofthus, an assistant attorney general and the department's chief ethics
officer, to disclose whether he had advised Whitaker to recuse himself from
oversight of the probe.
The Democrats cited Whitaker's past public statements, which have included
an op-ed article in which he said Mueller would be straying outside his mandate
if he investigated President Donald Trump's family finances. In a talk-radio
interview he maintained there was no evidence of collusion between the Russia
and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.
The letter to the Justice Department asked Lofthus to explain his reasoning
for any recommendation he made to Whitaker regarding recusal and to provide all
ethics guidance provided to the acting attorney general.
Whitaker, a Republican Party loyalist and chief of staff to just-ousted
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, was elevated Wednesday after Trump forced
Whitaker has faced pressure from Democrats to recuse himself from overseeing
Mueller based on the comments, which were made before he joined the Justice
Department last year. He has also tweeted an ex-prosecutor's opinion piece that
described a "Mueller lynch mob," which he said was "worth a read."
"Let's face it, Whitaker is already biased," Schumer said. "He has already
talked about ways to strangle the Mueller investigation, such as cutting off
The Mueller protection bill would give any special counsel a 10-day window
to seek review of a firing and ensure that the person was fired for good cause.
It's unclear if Republicans would agree to add the bill to the spending
legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said there is
no need for it, but other Republicans, like Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and Maine
Sen. Susan Collins, have called for the bill since Whitaker was appointed.
Schumer declined to say whether Democrats would be willing to force a
government shutdown if Congress did not pass a measure protecting Mueller
suggesting it wouldn't come to that because of bipartisan support. "There's no
reason we shouldn't add this and avoid a constitutional crisis," he told CNN's
State of the Union. "If that doesn't happen, we will see what happens down the
The bipartisan Mueller legislation was approved by the Senate Judiciary
Committee in April and was co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of
South Carolina and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary
Committee, described Trump's appointment of Whitaker as "an attack" on the
Mueller investigation and said protecting that probe will be his committee's
Nadler told ABC's "This Week" if Whitaker is still acting attorney general
when Nadler becomes Judiciary chairman next year, "one of our first orders of
business will be to invite him, and if necessary to subpoena him, to appear
before the committee."