- Reuters/Yuri Gripas
- President Donald Trump said he didn’t know acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker had been a vocal critic of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation before he appointed him.
- Whitaker’s record was met with sharp scrutiny after Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned, with many taking issue at his appearance as a Trump loyalist, and lack of intention to recuse himself from matters relating to the investigation in Russia and Trump.
President Donald Trump said he didn’t know that acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker had been a vocal critic of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation before he appointed him.
“I did not know that. I did not know he took views on the Mueller investigation as such,” Trump told host Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” adding that when he did find out about Whitaker’s views he didn’t “think it had any effect.”
Whitaker was met with sharp scrutiny after Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned at the president’s request, as he reportedly did not plan to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation and would block Mueller from subpoenaing Trump.
Whitaker has frequently undermined the legitimacy and validity of the Mueller probe in past media appearances, echoing one of Trump’s most-used assertions that the probe is a “witch hunt,” and declaring in 2017 the “truth is there was no collusion with the Russians and the Trump campaign.”
“He’s right. What do you do when a person’s right?” Trump said. “There is no collusion. He happened to be right. I mean, he said it. So if he said there is collusion, I’m supposed to be taking somebody that says there is? Because then I wouldn’t take him for two reasons, but the number one reason is the fact that he would have been wrong.”
When Wallace brought up Whitaker’s record, the program cut to a panel segment where Whitaker is shown saying he “could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced and that attorney general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller, he just reduces the budget so low that his investigation grinds to a halt.”
When Wallace asked about Trump’s reaction potential efforts by Whitaker to limit or curtail the Mueller investigation, Trump said he would not get involved.
“I think he’s astute politically. He’s a very smart person. A very respected person,” Trump said. “He’s going to do what’s right. I really believe he’s going to do what’s right.”
Incoming House intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff lead the charge last week of Democratic lawmakers speaking out on the future of Mueller’s investigation under Whitaker, promising members of Congress were prepared to challenge Whitaker’s legitimacy and expose any ulterior motives.
“If he doesn’t recuse himself, if he has any involvement whatsoever in this Russia probe we are going to find out whether he made commitments to the president about the probe,” Schiff said. “Whether he is serving as a back channel to the president or his lawyers about the probe, whether he’s doing anything to interfere with the probe.”
Whitaker’s appointment brought refreshed concern for Mueller’s investigation, which is poised to enter a new phase as Trump said Saturday he would deliver his answers to questions from the special counsel next week. Though the content of the answers was unclear,
Trump said he “probably” wouldn’t sit for an interview with Mueller because “we’ve wasted enough time on this witch hunt.”
Wallace pressed, “What are the odds? One in a hundred?”
“I don’t do odds,” Trump said.
“You ran a casino sir,” Wallace interjected.
“You’re right, and very successfully,” Trump said, before again adding that he thinks the investigation’s end is near.