It was a whirlwind — and deeply unnerving — week for the federal Russia investigation and its offshoots.
Trump forced Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign on Wednesday, just one day after the midterm elections. That move meant that Trump’s handpicked successor as acting Attorney General, Sessions’ former chief of staff Matt Whitaker, assumed control of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Whitaker’s appointment is complicated by a host of problems, from his lucrative stint running an anti-Clinton advocacy group to his paid role as the head of a patent marketing firm sued by the federal government for fraud. But most concerning are his dismissive public comments about the Russia probe.
Whitaker has claimed that Russia did not actually interfere with the 2016 presidential election and that Mueller’s investigation needs to be reined in or even stopped. As former prosecutors told TPM, Whitaker could derail the probe by starving it of funds or refusing to release Mueller’s final reports to Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other top Democrats, as well as 18 attorneys general, have called for Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation. Newly invested with subpoena power after regaining control of the House of Representatives, Democrats have also ordered an investigation into Sessions’ firing, requesting all relevant documents be turned over.
Democrats are considering tacking a resolution to protect the probe onto a spending bill that Congress must pass by the end of the year.
Trump, for his part, said “I don’t know Matt Whitaker” when reporters brought up these concerns on Friday. On Oct. 11, the President told Fox News, “I can tell you Matt Whitaker is a great guy, I know Matt Whitaker.”
The Wall Street Journal dropped an exhaustive report revealing, in minute detail, how President Trump was involved in or briefed on almost every step of the hush money payments to women that violated campaign finance law. The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, which secured a plea deal with Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, has acquired evidence of Trump’s involvement in those schemes, according to the Journal.
A lawyer for Andrew Miller, the ex-Roger Stone aide challenging the legitimacy of Mueller’s authority, said he planned to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. The appeals court currently hearing Miller’s case requested Friday that the parties explain how Whitaker’s takeover of the Mueller probe could impact the case.
Two Stone associates were questioned before a grand jury convened by Mueller about an alleged effort to intimidate Stone’s ally-turned-nemesis Randy Credico. Stone has said Credico was his channel to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, while Credico called himself a “patsy.”
While trying to swindle investors into a real estate scam, Jeffrey Yohai falsely boasted about having provided information about his former father-in-law Paul Manafort to Mueller’s team. Yohai has been charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. He was already awaiting sentencing on separate charges of real estate fraud he pleaded guilty to in 2017.
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