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Matthew Whitaker reportedly cleared to oversee Mueller probe

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Ethics officials at the Department of Justice have advised Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker that he does not need to recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, CNN’s Laura Jarrett reported Thursday.

Whitaker, who has been leading the DOJ since Jeff Sessions’ departure in early November, has been scrutinized over his frequent criticisms of the probe and Mueller’s authority. After Sessions recused himself from overseeing the investigation in spring of 2017, it’s been under the authority of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The guidance from ethics officials comes after reports that Whitaker does not plan to recuse himself from the investigation, and would not approve a potential subpoena requiring President Donald Trump to testify before a grand jury.

Read more: In a ‘self-defeating and self-incriminating’ slipup, Trump just indicated he installed Matthew Whitaker to kill the Russia probe

Whitaker frequently undermined the legitimacy and validity of the Mueller probe in the media before joining the DOJ as Sessions’ chief of staff, echoing Trump’s own talking points that the probe is a “witch hunt” investigating non-existent impropriety by the Trump campaign.

In a 2017 CNN op-ed title d “Mueller’s investigation has gone too far,” Whitaker argued that Mueller had “crossed a red line” in examining Trump and his family’s finances.

“If he 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.

So far, Mueller’s investigation has indicted 32 people, enlisted several former Trump campaign staffers as cooperating witnesses, and secured one conviction at trial.

Read more: From arguing federal judges should be Christian to being involved in a scam shut down by the FTC, here’s a full timeline of acting AG Matthew Whitaker’s controversial past

And in a 2017 CNN interview, he described how Trump could find a loophole to effectively terminate the Mueller probe by defunding it.

“I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment,” Whitaker said. “And that attorney general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.”

Whitaker claimed in the same interview that a president cannot be guilty of obstruction of justice, and that Trump should have been even more forceful in encouraging former FBI director James Comey to shut down his investigation into former Trump campaign advisor Michael Flynn, who ended up pleading guilty to lying to the FBI, and becoming a cooperating witness in the Mueller probe.

“If he wanted to he could have told Jim [Comey] to stop investigating former [Defense Intelligence Agency] director Flynn. And he didn’t … I’m sure he made his preference known. Quite frankly, he’s president of the United States. He can do that,” Whitaker said.

Flynn, who has been cooperating with the Mueller probe for over a year, was recently lambasted for lying to federal agents by federal judge Emmett Sullivan at a sentencing hearing. “Arguably,” Sullivan told Flynn, “you sold your country out.”

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