President Trump's forcing out of Jeff Sessions has cast doubt on the future of Robert Mueller's investigation—especially since Sessions' replacement, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, has long been a critic of the probe. Whitaker, who served as Sessions' chief of staff, has repeatedly accused the Mueller investigation of overreach and said last year that if funding could be cut off, "his investigation grinds to almost a halt." He also tweeted a link describing the probe as a "witch hunt." A senior administration official tells the Washington Post that Whitaker, who met with Trump at least a dozen times, tended to smile and nod in agreement whenever the president complained about the Mueller investigation. More:
- Outcry from Democrats. Democrats viewed the move as a clear attempt to crush the Russia election-meddling probe and called for Whitaker to recuse himself as Sessions had done, the BBC reports. "Congress must take immediate action to protect the rule of law and integrity of the investigation," Nancy Pelosi tweeted, citing Whitaker's "records of threats to undermine & weaken the Russia investigation."
- What Whitaker could do. The New York Times takes a look at what Whitaker can and can't do to curtail Mueller's investigation. He could shrink the budget of the special counsel's office, block subpoenas, and order Mueller to stop investigating specific matters. But to fire Mueller, he would have to either find reasons to fire him for misconduct or, in order to fire him without cause, revoke the regulations protecting Mueller.
- "A political fishing expedition." In an opinion piece for CNN last year, Whitaker warmed that the Mueller investigation could turn into a "political fishing expedition" if it didn't limit its scope. He wrote that he found it "deeply concerning" that Mueller was reportedly crossing a "red line" by looking into Trump's finances. Click for the full piece.
- A gift to Democrats? Politico describes the dismissal of Sessions as having handed House Democrats their first investigation "on a silver platter." Incoming committee chairmen have already sent letters to the administration calling for the preservation of all materials "relevant to the work of the Office of the Special Counsel or the departure of the Attorney General."
- GOP says probe must go on. Republicans including Sen. Susan Collins and Mitt Romney warned Trump that the Mueller investigation must go on, the Guardian reports. "It is imperative that the Administration not impede the Mueller investigation," Collins tweeted. "Special Counsel Mueller must be allowed to complete his work without interference." She praised Sessions as a "leader of integrity who served his country well."
(Weeks before the firing, Trump said it was "sad" that he "didn't have an attorney general."