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DOJ says Jeff Sessions’ replacement will take over the Mueller probe

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Robert
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  • The Department of Justice confirmed to INSIDER that Matthew
    Whitaker, the acting attorney general, would assume control of
    the FBI’s Russia investigation led by the special counsel Robert
    Mueller.
  • Whitaker, seen by many as a hardline loyalist to President
    Donald Trump, has written and commented extensively expressing
    his belief that Mueller needs to be reined in.
  • Trump’s decision to oust Jeff Sessions as attorney general on
    Wednesday and replace him with Whitaker sparked concern among
    lawmakers and national-security experts who described the move as
    an attempt to gut the Russia investigation.
  • “Why is the President making this change and who has
    authority over Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation?”
    Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler tweeted. “We will be holding people
    accountable.”
  • Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives on
    Tuesday and are widely expected to function as a check on Trump’s
    attacks on the DOJ and the FBI.

The Department of Justice confirmed to INSIDER on Wednesday that
Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general replacing Jeff
Sessions, would assume oversight of the FBI’s Russia
investigation led by the special counsel Robert Mueller.

“The Acting Attorney General is in charge of all matters under
the purview of the Department of Justice,” a DOJ representative
said in an email.

Whitaker, a former US attorney from the Southern District of
Iowa, is viewed by many as a staunch Trump loyalist.

The New York Times reported in
September
that the White House chief of staff, John Kelly,
once described Whitaker as the West Wing’s “eyes and ears” in the
DOJ, which is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded
with Russia to tilt the 2016 election in his favor.

Whitaker appears to share the White House’s skepticism of Mueller
and the Russia investigation. Shortly before he was hired as
Sessions’ chief of staff last year, Whitaker wrote in an op-ed article
for CNN
that Mueller had “come up to a red line in the Russia
2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close
to crossing.”

Whitaker added that his concerns stemmed from reports that the
special counsel was investigating the Trump Organization’s
financial records. Mueller’s scrutiny of Trump’s finances “falls
completely outside of the realm” of his appointment, Whitaker
wrote.

But in a letter outlining the scope of Mueller’s appointment last
year, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave Mueller broad
authority to not only investigate “any links and/or coordination
between the Russian government and individuals associated” with
Trump’s campaign, but examine “any matters that arose or may
arise directly from the investigation.”

Rosenstein also gave Mueller the power to investigate “any other
matters within the scope” of the law outlining a
special counsel’s jurisdiction
, including perjury,
obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation
of witnesses.

Sessions’ ouster on Wednesday sparked widespread concern from
lawmakers and national-security experts who described it as an
attempt to gut Mueller’s investigation.

“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 Chuck Schumer
said
in a statement
.

House Democrats, who will have a majority in the chamber
following Tuesday’s midterm elections, also sounded the alarm.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, the ranking member of the House Judiciary
Committee, said
in a tweet
that Americans “must have answers immediately as
to the reasoning behind” Trump’s decision to remove Sessions.

“Why is the President making this change and who has authority
over Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation?” Nadler added. “We
will be holding people accountable.”

Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who spent 12
years at the Justice Department, told INSIDER in a text that it
was “safe to say this news wasn’t shocking to Mueller.”

“Perhaps the timing, but everyone knew Sessions’ tenure was
limited,” Cramer added. “We should see grand jury action or a
report soon. Whitaker could try to slow-walk future efforts to
sit on a report. But it’s naive to think the new Democratic House
of Representatives just sits there and watches.”

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