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Dems press DOJ ethics chief to intervene with Whitaker over Mueller probe

November 12, 2018

Top Democrats pushed the Justice Department’s ethics chief Monday to disclose his advice to acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker about whether he needed to recuse himself from overseeing the ongoing Russia investigation.

The Democrats said they believe Mr. Whitaker must not be in charge of overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s work, and they are hoping Lee J. Lofthus, the department’s designated ethics officer, has come to the same conclusion.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Democrats’ leaders in Congress, led the letter, joined by the ranking Democrats on the Judiciary and intelligence committees in each chamber, as well as the House oversight panel.

They pointed to comments Mr. Whitaker made last year suggesting an attorney general might starve the special counsel of funding, thereby limiting its ability to follow through on its investigation.

“For these reasons, we request that you immediately notify us in writing regarding whether you, or any other ethics officials at the Justice Department, have advised Mr. Whitaker to recuse from supervision of the special counsel investigation, and the basis for that recommendation,” the Democrats wrote. “We also request that you provide us all ethics guidance the department has provided to Mr. Whitaker to date.”

Mr. Whitaker was named acting attorney general last week after President Trump ousted Jeff Sessions from the role.

Mr. Whitaker served in the last decade as a U.S. attorney from Iowa, and had been serving as chief of staff to Mr. Sessions, but was not in a Senate-confirmed position at the time of his elevation to be acting department head.

A number of lawmakers and legal experts have said Mr. Whitaker’s appointment violates the Constitution.

There’s also a move to insulate the Mueller probe from any interference from Mr. Whitaker or Mr. Trump.

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