Canada Markets closed

Sen. Lindsey Graham: Acting AG Whitaker says special counsel is handling the Russia probe correctly

Kevin Breuninger
Matthew Whitaker's decision leaves him with the final say over whether to challenge Mueller's major investigative or prosecutorial actions as the special counsel continues to investigate Russia interference in the 2016 presidential election, and possible collusion by President Donald Trump's campaign in that effort.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said that as far as he has seen, special counsel Robert Mueller has handled the Russia probe correctly, Sen. Lindsey Graham said Thursday.

Graham's remarks to an NBC News reporter came just after the senior Republican senator spoke with Whitaker in a closed-door meeting in Graham's office on Capitol Hill.

"I don't think he's going to do anything unsavory," Graham said of Whitaker to a gaggle of reporters just after the meeting.

Graham said Whitaker also told him that he sees no need to recuse himself from his role overseeing the special counsel's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — a step increasingly demanded by Democrats and some legal experts.

The Justice Department, however, has already determined that it was appropriate for Whitaker to serve as the top U.S. law enforcement official in an acting role despite his having avoided Senate confirmation as a DOJ employee.

Graham's comments Thursday aligned with the stance he took on Whitaker's appointment in an interview on CBS' "Face The Nation" over the weekend.

"I think he was appropriately appointed legally, I don't think he has to recuse himself. I am confident the Mueller investigation will be allowed to come to a good solid conclusion, that there'll be no political influence put on Mr. Mueller by Mr. Whitaker to do anything other than Mr. Mueller's job," Graham said on the program.

Whitaker became acting attorney general after President Donald Trump fired then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions shortly following the midterm elections, where Democrats won majority control of the House of Representatives and Republicans strengthened their Senate majority.

Whitaker had served as chief of staff for Sessions, who had recused himself in March 2017 from overseeing investigations into Russian interference after he had drawn intense scrutiny for failing to disclose his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2016.

As a result, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gained oversight of the federal Russia probes, which came to include the special counsel. But Whitaker now oversees the special counsel investigation, the DOJ confirmed.

Almost immediately after Trump announced that Whitaker would take over as acting attorney general, reports of Whitaker's past comments appearing skeptical of the Mueller probe began to surface.

Critics pointed to Whitaker's comments as a CNN commentator, including an August 2017 op-ed arguing that if Mueller looked into the Trump family's finances "without a broadened scope in his appointment, then this would raise serious concerns that the special counsel's investigation was a mere witch hunt."