The silhouette of Robert Mueller, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and special counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice. (Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg)

Mueller Probe ‘Close to Being Completed,’ DOJ’s Whitaker Says

(Bloomberg) -- Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is “close to being completed.”

“I have been fully briefed on the investigation,” Whitaker, who has authority over Mueller’s probe, said during a news conference Monday. “I look forward to Director Mueller delivering the final report.”

Whitaker also said “I am comfortable that the decisions that were made are going to be reviewed.” Whitaker didn’t elaborate, but a Justice Department official said later he sought to convey that he’d follow department regulations regarding Mueller’s closing documents.

The regulations require Mueller to provide the attorney general with “a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel.”

Whitaker meant to say he would look at the decisions, the official said. He has no intention to try to revisit or change Mueller’s decisions, said the official, who asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware said Whitaker’s statement that decisions made in the investigation would be reviewed is “chilling,” adding he doesn’t have confidence that Whitaker will respect the independence of Mueller’s probe.

“I hope to be pleasantly surprised that he is not attempting to interfere in any way with the Mueller investigation or slow or prevent release of his report, but one could draw those inferences,” Coons said.

Democrats have said they’re concerned that Whitaker, who criticized Mueller’s investigation before he joined the Justice Department, may try to suppress some of his findings or hamper the probe. Mueller has been investigating whether President Donald Trump or any of his associates conspired with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

There has also been an ongoing question about how much of Mueller’s probe will be made public. The White House may try to assert executive privilege to prevent key findings from being turned over to Congress and the public, according to people familiar with internal deliberations.

William Barr, who Trump nominated to be attorney general, told lawmakers that Justice Department standards may prevent him from releasing Mueller’s final report or allowing the president to be charged with a crime while in office. Barr provided written answers to follow-up questions from his confirmation hearing.

His answers could result in more criticism from lawmakers who are seeking ironclad assurances that the public will get to read Mueller’s report.

Barr’s nomination is likely to be voted out of the Judiciary Committee next week, setting up a confirmation vote on the Senate floor before Presidents’ Day on Feb. 18.

Two Senate Judiciary panel members -- Republican Chuck Grassley and Democrat Richard Blumenthal -- said Monday that they’re proposing legislation that would require Mueller’s report to be made available to the public and Congress when the investigation is complete. If the special counsel were fired or resigned, a public report would have to be released in two weeks.

Mueller has continued to unspool his findings, issuing another indictment last week. On Friday, Mueller arrested Trump’s longtime ally Roger Stone, accusing him of lying to Congress and obstructing a congressional inquiry.

Whitaker decided not to recuse himself from overseeing Mueller’s investigation even though a Justice Department ethics official said a formal review would likely recommend a recusal, an agency official has said.

Democrats have demanded that Whitaker step back from Mueller’s continuing investigation because he openly criticized the probe in interviews last year before he joined the Justice Department. Trump has also repeatedly derided Mueller’s work as a "witch hunt."

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