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Whitaker will not recuse himself from Mueller probe: report

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  • Matthew Whitaker, the new acting attorney general, does not
    plan to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation,
    The Washington Post reported on Thursday. 
  • Whitaker would also reportedly block Mueller from issuing a
    subpoena for President Donald Trump to testify in the Mueller
    probe. 
  • Whitaker, a former US attorney from the Southern District of
    Iowa, is viewed by many as a staunch Trump loyalist, and
    appears to share the White House’s criticisms of Mueller and
    the Russia investigation.

Matthew Whitaker, the new acting attorney general, reportedly
does not plan to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia
investigation and would not approve a request from Special
Counsel Robert Mueller to subpoena President Donald Trump for an
interview.

According to The Washington
Post
, ethics officials at the Department of Justice (DOJ)
will likely examine Whitaker’s past work and commentary to gauge
whether he has any financial or personal conflicts that could
interfere with his oversight of the Russia probe. Based on their
review, ethics officials would make a recommendation, but
Whitaker would not be legally required to follow it.

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.

Meanwhile, where a presidential subpoena is concerned, if
Whitaker were to reject Mueller’s request for one, it could
dramatically alter his ability to get to the bottom of several
investigative threads surrounding Trump.

Mueller’s team has been wrangling with Trump’s lawyers for almost
a year over the terms of a presidential interview. Trump’s
lawyers have repeatedly blocked Mueller’s requests, but the two
sides agreed to a first round of questions to which Trump’s
lawyers would provide written answers to inquiries about
collusion, but not about obstruction of justice. Mueller agreed
but reportedly insisted on getting a chance to ask the president
follow-ups as well.

On Wednesday, CNN reported that as Trump was preparing to replace
Sessions with Whitaker, the president had already begun reviewing
the answers his lawyers had put together to send back to the
special counsel.

It’s unclear whether Mueller will accept the answers as is
without pressing for an in-person interview. Trump’s lead defense
lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told INSIDER in August that if
Mueller subpoenas Trump, his lawyers would “would move to
quash the subpoena.” He added at the time that they were “pretty
much finished with our memorandum opposing a subpoena.”

A presidential subpoena would likely kick off a lengthy
constitutional battle that would go all the way to the Supreme
Court.

Current DOJ policy states that a sitting president cannot be
indicted. Trump’s lawyers have argued that if he cannot be
indicted, he also cannot be subpoenaed.

DOJ veterans and Mueller’s former associates have described him
as a by-the-books prosecutor, adding that he is unlikely to go
against DOJ guidelines on the issue of indictment.

But the move may not be completely off the table.

In May, The 
Washington
Post

 reported that during a negotiation in March,
Mueller threatened to subpoena Trump to testify before a grand
jury if he did not agree to a voluntary interview.

Three previous US presidents have been
subpoenaed

Roland Riopelle, a former
federal prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, told INSIDER in
September that based on past legal precedent, he believes that if
Trump “gets subpoenaed … the court will issue an order for him
to appear before the grand jury.”

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