Grassley Says He's Confident Whitaker Won't Mess With Mueller

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley defended Matthew Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general, dismissing concerns he may hamper Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

Grassley told reporters Tuesday that Whitaker, who now supervises the Mueller probe, criticized the investigation “as a private citizen,” and the Republican senator added that he expects Whitaker to consult with ethics officials about whether he needs to recuse himself.

Asked whether he’s confident Whitaker won’t interfere with Mueller’s probe, Grassley said, “The president said he wouldn’t do that, so it doesn’t matter what Whitaker thinks.”

It’s not clear, however, that Whitaker is planning to consult the Justice Department’s ethics office anytime soon. The department has said only that Whitaker would consult with ethics officials on specific matters if it’s appropriate.

“Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is fully committed to following all appropriate processes and procedures at the Department of Justice, including consulting with senior ethics officials on his oversight responsibilities and matters that may warrant recusal,” department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Monday in a statement that didn’t address the Mueller probe.

Critics, including top House Democrats who will take control of key committees in January, say they fear that Trump chose Whitaker to be acting attorney general in order to curtail or stop Mueller’s investigation. Whitaker could take a number of actions affecting the probe because he controls the composition of Mueller’s team and its budget and he must approve major investigative steps, including indictments.

Whitaker has been publicly critical in the past of the investigation, which is probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, whether Trump or any of his associates conspired to do so, and whether Trump has obstructed justice. As a CNN commentator, he said the probe risked becoming a “witch hunt,” adopting Trump’s favorite phrase to denounce it.

Whitaker put out a statement shortly after taking the job that he would lead the department “with the highest ethical standards.”

Grassley also told reporters Tuesday that he’s still deciding whether to remain as Senate Judiciary chairman in the next Congress or switch to head the Finance Committee.

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