Top Democrats have stepped up pressure on acting US Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to step aside from overseeing a special counsel probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, vowing to order him to testify early next year.
Representative Jerrold Nadler, the expected incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the committee plans to subpoena Mr Whitaker to testify next year as its first witness.
“He should recuse himself. He has expressed total hostility to the investigation,” Mr Nadler said. “His appointment is simply part of an attack on the investigation by Robert Mueller.”
In a letter to the Justice Department’s chief ethics officer, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats have asked whether any ethics attorneys have advised Mr Whitaker to recuse himself and demanded details on any ethics guidance Mr Whitaker had received.
“Allowing a vocal opponent of the investigation to oversee it will severely undermine public confidence in the Justice Department’s work on this critically important matter,” the letter said.
Mr Whitaker has made multiple negative comments about the Mueller investigation. In addition, Mr Whitaker is also a close friend of Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign co-chair Sam Clovis.
Mr Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway defended Mr Whitaker, she said: “Comments that Matt Whitaker made as a private citizen on cable TV does not disqualify him from being fair and impartial by overseeing this investigation.”
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