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Dems Seek to Protect Mueller Probe     11/12 06:24

   Stepping up Democratic efforts to shield the Russia investigation, Senate 
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would seek to tie a measure protecting 
special counsel Robert Mueller to must-pass legislation if acting attorney 
general Matthew Whitaker does not recuse himself from oversight of the probe.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Stepping up Democratic efforts to shield the Russia 
investigation, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would seek to tie a 
measure protecting special counsel Robert Mueller to must-pass legislation if 
acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker does not recuse himself from oversight 
of the probe.

   "Democrats in the House and Senate are going to attempt to put on must-pass 
legislation, mainly the spending bill, legislation that would prevent Whitaker 
from interfering in any way with the Mueller investigation," Schumer told The 
Associated Press Sunday.

   Schumer said keeping Whitaker in charge of the investigation would create a 
"constitutional crisis" and said if he doesn't recuse himself, Democrats would 
push to introduce legislation to protect Mueller's investigation.

   Schumer sent a letter to the Justice Department on Sunday along with House 
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats that calls for Lee 
Lofthus, an assistant attorney general and the department's chief ethics 
officer, to disclose whether he had advised Whitaker to recuse himself from 
oversight of the probe.

   The Democrats cited Whitaker's past public statements, which have included 
an op-ed article in which he said Mueller would be straying outside his mandate 
if he investigated President Donald Trump's family finances. In a talk-radio 
interview he maintained there was no evidence of collusion between the Russia 
and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.

   The letter to the Justice Department asked Lofthus to explain his reasoning 
for any recommendation he made to Whitaker regarding recusal and to provide all 
ethics guidance provided to the acting attorney general.

   Whitaker, a Republican Party loyalist and chief of staff to just-ousted 
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, was elevated Wednesday after Trump forced 
Sessions out.

   Whitaker has faced pressure from Democrats to recuse himself from overseeing 
Mueller based on the comments, which were made before he joined the Justice 
Department last year. He has also tweeted an ex-prosecutor's opinion piece that 
described a "Mueller lynch mob," which he said was "worth a read."

   "Let's face it, Whitaker is already biased," Schumer said. "He has already 
talked about ways to strangle the Mueller investigation, such as cutting off 
their funding."

   The Mueller protection bill would give any special counsel a 10-day window 
to seek review of a firing and ensure that the person was fired for good cause.

   It's unclear if Republicans would agree to add the bill to the spending 
legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said there is 
no need for it, but other Republicans, like Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and Maine 
Sen. Susan Collins, have called for the bill since Whitaker was appointed.

   Schumer declined to say whether Democrats would be willing to force a 
government shutdown if Congress did not pass a measure protecting Mueller 
suggesting it wouldn't come to that because of bipartisan support. "There's no 
reason we shouldn't add this and avoid a constitutional crisis," he told CNN's 
State of the Union. "If that doesn't happen, we will see what happens down the 
road."

   The bipartisan Mueller legislation was approved by the Senate Judiciary 
Committee in April and was co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of 
South Carolina and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

   Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary 
Committee, described Trump's appointment of Whitaker as "an attack" on the 
Mueller investigation and said protecting that probe will be his committee's 
top priority.

   Nadler told ABC's "This Week" if Whitaker is still acting attorney general 
when Nadler becomes Judiciary chairman next year, "one of our first orders of 
business will be to invite him, and if necessary to subpoena him, to appear 
before the committee."


(KA)

 
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