Published: Fri, November 09, 2018
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

With new Justice official, fate of Russia probe in question

With new Justice official, fate of Russia probe in question

Critics worry Whitaker may be unlikely or unwilling to defend the investigation, given his history of partisanship and loyalty to Trump.

Separately, Justice Department prosecutors in NY secured a guilty plea from Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who said the president directed him to arrange hush money payments before the 2016 election to two women who said they had sex with Trump. Whitaker was hired as a CNN legal commentator a year ago for several months, before leaving the role in September 2017 to head to the Justice Department as chief of staff to now-former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Clovis, who later worked in Trump's presidential campaign, has been interviewed as part of Mueller's Russian Federation probe.

Whitaker's elevation to become the nation's top law enforcement official followed the ouster Wednesday of Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

In a 2017 interview on "The David Webb Show", first reported by Mother Jones, Whitaker argued that, amid reports Trump had asked former FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, there was no case for obstruction of justice regardless of President Donald Trump's motives because the president is entitled to make such calls with his inherent authority.

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Christie shocked the Republican establishment after he endorsed then-candidate Donald Trump for president in February 2016 and joined Trump's campaign.

During a brief stint past year as a conservative legal commentator on CNN, Whitaker often appeared as a Trump defender, saying he saw no evidence the president colluded with Russians during the 2016 campaign or obstructed justice.

But Trump could also try to kill or suppress the probe after firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday, placing a loyalist in an oversight role over the investigation that Sessions had recused himself from.

Installing Whitaker could clear the way for Trump to force out Mueller. Democrats worry that firing Sessions is a path to removing special counsel Robert Mueller and trying to end the probe. Sessions reportedly resigned at the request of the president.

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The announcement, which came in a tweet, comes after months of speculation that Sessions could be on his way out after recusing himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections.

In pushing out his attorney-general, the President cast aside one of his earliest and strongest supporters.

Sessions took himself out of decision-making on the probe in March 2017 even after Trump dispatched the White House lawyer to persuade him not to do so, according to a person familiar with the matter. Eight guilty pleas have resulted so far, and one jury trial conviction.

One reason Sessions endured months of taunting from Trump is that he believed he was protecting the integrity of the Justice Department and was trying to prevent the president from bringing in someone who would politicize it, according to a US official who has worked with Sessions and frequently talked with him.

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