Grassley downplays concerns over Whitaker

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley downplayed concerns raised by Democrats on multiple fronts about conflicts of interest involving acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker or that Whitaker might interfere in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Posted: Nov 14, 2018 3:43 PM
Updated: Nov 14, 2018 4:01 PM

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley on Tuesday downplayed concerns raised by Democrats on multiple fronts about conflicts of interest involving acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker or that Whitaker might interfere in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Grassley and other senior Republicans said they were confident Whitaker would get clearance from ethics officials at the Justice Department, and they rebuffed Democratic calls for hauling Whitaker up to Capitol Hill to testify.

"I heard over TV or radio that Whitaker is going to ask the ethics people whether he should be recused. I think that answers it," the Iowa Republican said. "Doesn't matter what the Democrats think. If he is going through that process that's going to answer that question."

Asked if Whitaker, who met recently with Grassley, provided assurances he would not interfere in the Mueller investigation, Grassley said President Donald Trump has made that assurance and that's what matters.

"It seems to me that the President is the chief executive and the President said that he wasn't going to do that," Grassley said. "Doesn't matter what Whitaker thinks. The President said it isn't going to be done."

Grassley's backing comes as Democrats have demanded that Whitaker recuse himself in the Mueller probe over his past comments criticizing the investigation -- and newly empowered House Democrats have signaled they will investigate Jeff Sessions' firing and Whitaker's appointment when they take power in January.

Democrats and others have also argued that Whitaker's appointment may not be lawful because he was never confirmed by the Senate. Maryland's Attorney General Brian Frosh filed a court challenge Tuesday to replace Whitaker with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as acting attorney general.

"No matter what the Trump Justice Department says, there is no acceptable justification for this appointment," said Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat. "Even conservative justices on the Supreme Court have essentially made that argument."

On Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent Grassley two letters calling for hearings with Whitaker and Sessions. "The circumstances surrounding Attorney General Sessions' departure raise serious questions, including whether the appointment is lawful and the possible impact on Special Counsel Mueller's investigation," Feinstein wrote.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, said he hopes "Whitaker's time as acting AG is extraordinarily brief," calling on the President to pick a well-qualified candidate sooner rather than later.

Grassley said a hearing with Whitaker was "under consideration," and he hadn't made a decision yet. But the Iowa Republican also noted he was not concerned about past remarks from Whitaker that were critical of the Mueller investigation.

"As long as he made them as a private citizen, no," Grassley said.

Other Republicans on the Judiciary panel said Whitaker should not testify.

"I don't see an advantage to doing that," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, adding that Democrats would likely try "to smear him -- there may be some who may like to do that."

Hatch told CNN that he's not concerned that Whitaker will act improperly with the Mueller probe. "Anybody who acts improperly will find themselves on the front page and not be in very good shape," he said. "He's going to be in a very tough position and people are going to watch him very carefully."

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told CNN that he hadn't yet spoken to Whitaker, and said it "would be a mistake" for him to interfere with the Mueller probe. But Cornyn added: "I think Director Mueller needs to wrap this thing up. He needs to finish his job. This thing has been hanging out there for a long time. Certainly I would think he's got virtually all the information he needs in order to make a decision and write a report."

Cornyn added he was not interested in the attorney general job.

Push for bill to protect Mueller

Democrats and a handful of Republicans are renewing a push for legislation to protect Mueller in the wake of Whitaker's appointment.

Leahy said he wanted stand-alone legislation, asserting that many Republicans privately agree that Whitaker might try to shape the Russia investigation.

The special counsel legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in the spring, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear he doesn't intend to bring it to the floor for a vote, a position the Kentucky Republican reiterated last week in the wake of Sessions' firing.

Sen. Jeff Flake, the retiring Arizona Republican senator, tweeted that he would seek unanimous consent to vote on the bill on the Senate floor this week. But that effort is likely to be objected to, stopping it from going anywhere.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that Democrats would also try to attach legislation protecting the special counsel to the must-pass spending bill that Congress needs to pass during the lame-duck session. Schumer also said that Congress wanted to be notified of the results of Whitaker's meetings with ethics officials.

"Mr. Whitaker has prejudged the outcome of an investigation he now oversees," Schumer said.

Grassley, who helped broker a compromise on the legislation in the committee, said he supports the Mueller bill, but deferred to McConnell about moving it to the full Senate.

"The answer is, if it comes for a vote, I will vote for that bill. Whether it comes to a vote is up to the leader and I'm going to respect the leader's right to bring it up," he said.

Finally, Grassley said he will have an answer "in a few days" on whether he will remain chairman of the Judiciary Committee or move over to be chair of the Finance Committee, something that would be available to him with Hatch retiring.

He said he needs to consult his GOP colleagues before deciding.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

Terre Haute
Broken Clouds
65° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 65°
Robinson
Scattered Clouds
64° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 64°
Indianapolis
Scattered Clouds
64° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 64°
Rockville
Overcast
61° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 61°
Casey
Few Clouds
66° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 66°
Brazil
Broken Clouds
65° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 65°
Marshall
Broken Clouds
65° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 65°
Storms tonight will be likely
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 152899

Reported Deaths: 7345
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook946054693
Lake10253428
DuPage9571483
Kane8028281
Will7171324
Winnebago3161104
McHenry2229101
St. Clair2202144
Kankakee140165
Unassigned1175201
Rock Island114230
Madison113370
Kendall103223
Champaign101817
Boone63021
Peoria62830
DeKalb61920
Sangamon50933
Jackson34719
McLean30815
Randolph2997
Ogle2864
Stephenson2826
LaSalle24617
Clinton24517
Macon24322
Whiteside20815
Union20219
Coles19017
Grundy1885
Iroquois1725
Tazewell1678
Knox1570
Adams1511
Monroe15013
Warren1470
Williamson1454
Cass1378
Morgan1323
Jefferson11517
Henry1061
Lee1052
McDonough10415
Vermilion862
Pulaski810
Marion770
Montgomery691
Macoupin663
Perry611
Douglas550
Livingston542
Jo Daviess521
Christian494
Jasper477
Woodford442
Ford421
Franklin400
Jersey401
Clark360
Bureau352
Menard310
Cumberland300
Mercer280
Effingham271
Washington250
Johnson240
Mason240
Fayette233
Wabash230
Alexander220
Carroll212
Piatt210
Hancock201
Moultrie200
Shelby201
Bond191
Crawford190
Logan180
Edgar170
De Witt160
Fulton160
Saline160
Wayne161
Massac150
Schuyler130
Marshall120
Brown100
Lawrence90
White90
Greene80
Henderson80
Richland80
Hamilton70
Stark70
Pike60
Gallatin50
Edwards30
Clay20
Hardin20
Out of IL20
Calhoun10
Pope10
Putnam10
Scott10

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 50300

Reported Deaths: 2748
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11920692
Lake5432248
Elkhart347058
Allen2902133
St. Joseph205169
Hamilton1665101
Cass16449
Hendricks1446100
Johnson1325118
Porter80238
Tippecanoe7599
Clark68144
Vanderburgh6816
Madison67264
LaPorte60527
Howard59458
Bartholomew59345
Kosciusko5704
Marshall5308
Noble50128
LaGrange4829
Jackson4783
Boone47444
Delaware46952
Hancock46036
Shelby43525
Floyd40444
Morgan33631
Monroe32928
Grant30926
Dubois2976
Henry29717
Montgomery29720
Clinton2893
White26810
Decatur25532
Dearborn25423
Lawrence25225
Vigo2478
Warrick24329
Harrison21722
Greene19332
Miami1922
Jennings17912
Putnam1728
DeKalb1674
Scott1639
Wayne1536
Daviess15017
Perry1459
Orange13723
Steuben1362
Jasper1332
Franklin1278
Ripley1277
Wabash1152
Carroll1132
Gibson1132
Fayette1057
Whitley1045
Newton10010
Starke983
Huntington932
Randolph794
Wells791
Jefferson782
Fulton731
Jay680
Washington681
Knox670
Clay665
Pulaski661
Rush613
Posey550
Owen521
Benton510
Spencer501
Adams491
Sullivan471
Brown431
Blackford402
Fountain352
Crawford330
Tipton321
Switzerland300
Martin240
Parke230
Ohio220
Vermillion200
Warren151
Union130
Pike110
Unassigned0193