WASHINGTON – Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has no intention of recusing himself from overseeing the special counsel probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to people close to him who added they do not believe he would approve any subpoena of President Donald Trump as part of that investigation.
Since stepping into his new role Wednesday, Whitaker has faced questions – principally from Democrats – about whether he should recuse himself from the Russia investigation, given that he has written opinion pieces about the investigation and is a friend and political ally of a grand jury witness.
On Thursday, two people close to Whitaker said he does not plan to take himself off the Russia case. They also said he is deeply skeptical of any effort to force the president's testimony through a subpoena.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has been negotiating for months with Trump's attorneys over the terms of a possible interview. Central to those discussions has been the idea that Mueller could, if negotiations failed, subpoena the president.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment, but officials there have said Whitaker will follow the regular procedure in handling any ethics issues. The Justice Department advises employees that “generally, an employee should seek advice from an ethics official before participating in any matter in which her impartiality could be questioned.”
On Thursday evening, Democratic attorneys general for 17 states and the District wrote to Whitaker urging him to recuse himself from the Russia probe.
The White House is unconcerned about his previous comments, a senior White House official said. It is unlikely that Whitaker will get the job permanently, the official said.
Meanwhile, protesters converged in cities nationwide Thursday to call for the protection of Mueller's investigation.
Several hundred demonstrators gathered in New York's Times Square and chanted slogans including “Hands off Mueller” and “Nobody's above the law” before marching downtown.
Crowds also turned out in Chicago; Greensboro, North Carolina; Chattanooga, Tennessee, and many other places. Organizers say the naming Whitaker is a “deliberate attempt to obstruct the special counsel's investigation.”