Exclusive: Whitaker told he does not need to recuse himself from overseeing Mueller investigation

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 12/20/2018, 9:18 a.m.
Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker has consulted with ethics officials at the Justice Department and they have advised him he ...
Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker told he does not need to recuse himself from overseeing Mueller investigation.

By Laura Jarrett, CNN

(CNN) -- Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker has consulted with ethics officials at the Justice Department and they have advised him he does not need to recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, a source familiar with the process told CNN Thursday.

The source added Whitaker has been in ongoing discussions with ethics officials since taking the job in early November following the ouster of Jeff Sessions, who had stepped aside from overseeing the investigation due to his role as a Trump campaign surrogate during the 2016 election.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein oversaw the investigation following Sessions' recusal and his office is still managing the investigation on a day-to-day basis, as CNN has previously reported.

When, exactly, ethics officials signed off on Whitaker's role was not immediately clear, but as of last month, he had not stepped aside from participating in significant developments in the Russia investigation. He was informed ahead of time that Trump's former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen would plead guilty to lying to Congress about the proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow.

Whitaker is expected to inform senators, many of whom have raised ethics concerns given his past criticism of Mueller's investigation, about this development later Thursday, the source said.

President Donald Trump has nominated William Barr to be the next attorney general on a permanent basis. If confirmed, Barr would oversee the Mueller investigation.

Trump's appointment of Whitaker was immediately controversial given his past criticism of Mueller's investigation. In a CNN op-ed written last year, Whitaker argued that Mueller is "dangerously close to crossing" a red line following reports that Mueller was looking into Trump's finances.

He also argued that Mueller does not have "broad, far-reaching powers in this investigation," but that the investigation's limits are clearly defined by Rosenstein's May 2017 letter appointing Mueller.