The acting attorney general has decided not to recuse himself from the special counsel investigation, and President Trump’s attorney general nominee wrote a memo critical of the inquiry this spring.
WASHINGTON — Matthew G. Whitaker, who was installed last month as acting attorney general by President Trump, has cleared himself to supervise the special counsel’s investigation, rejecting the recommendation of career Justice Department ethics specialists that he recuse himself, a senior department official said on Thursday.
The development came soon after the disclosure that the president’s nominee for attorney general, William P. Barr, had written a memo this spring in which he strongly criticized one of the main lines of inquiry by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III — whether Mr. Trump had committed obstruction of justice. Disclosure of the memo raised questions about whether Mr. Barr would order Mr. Mueller to shut down that component of the inquiry if the Senate confirmed him.
Together, the developments underscored the potential threats to Mr. Mueller’s ability to complete his work without interference at a time when his inquiry appears to be drawing closer to the White House and the president’s most trusted associates.
“It’s becoming pretty clear that the president is basing his choices for leadership at the Justice Department on candidates’ criticism of the Mueller investigation,” Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote on Twitter. “We can all see what’s happening here. It’s past time for Congress to pass bipartisan legislation protecting the special counsel’s investigation from political interference,” he said.
Both developments trace back to Mr. Trump’s decision, a day after the midterm elections in which Democrats won control of the House last month, to oust Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Enraging Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions had recused himself from overseeing investigations related to the 2016 election on the advice of department ethics officials because of his ties to the Trump campaign.
Mr. Sessions’s recusal left the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, in the role of acting attorney general for the investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia in its election-interference operation, and whether Mr. Trump later obstructed justice.
After firing Mr. Sessions, Mr. Trump named Mr. Whitaker — whom the White House had earlier imposed on Mr. Sessions as his chief of staff — the acting attorney general until the Senate confirms a successor. He then nominated Mr. Barr, who had served as attorney general under President George Bush, for the position. Contiue reading: A Memo and a Recusal Decision Underscore Potential Threats to the Mueller Inquiry