Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker has no intention of resigning from overseeing a special lawyer investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, according to people close to him who added that they did not believe he would approve a summons from President Trump as part of the investigation. .
Since stepping into his new role on Wednesday, Whitaker has faced questions – especially from Democrats – about whether he should resign from Russian investigations, given that he had written pieces of opinion in the past about investigations, and was a friend and political ally of a witness.
On Thursday, two people close to Whitaker said he had no intention of breaking away from the Russian case.
Ethics officials at the Justice Department tend to review their past work to see if they have financial or personal conflicts. In many instances, the office did not require Department of Justice officials to resign, but suggested an action. In the past, senior Department of Justice officials tended to follow these suggestions, but they were rarely asked to do so, according to officials familiar with the process.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment. Officials there say Whitaker will follow regular procedures in dealing with any ethical issues that arise.
In 2014, Whitaker led the Sam Clovis campaign, a Republican candidate for the Iowa state treasurer. Clovis continued to work as a Trump campaign adviser and had been a witness in Mueller's investigation.
The Department of Justice advises employees that "generally, an employee must seek advice from an ethical officer before participating in any matter where his impartiality can be questioned." Regulations prohibit employees, "without written permission, from participating in criminal investigations or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with anyone or an organization that is substantially involved in behavior that is the subject of an investigation or prosecution."
Two people close to Whitaker said they were very confident he would not approve any request from special adviser Robert S. Mueller III to summon the president. Lawyer Mueller and Trump have been negotiating for months about the possibility of an interview, without visible consent.
Whitaker's height to become the country's highest law enforcement official followed Wednesday's overthrow of Jeff Sessions as attorney general. The session has experienced a month of public abuse from Trump, which deteriorated in the Session because he resigned from the surveillance of Russian investigations shortly after he arrived at the Justice Department.
The session felt that Mueller's investigation had gone on for too long, but also believed that it was important for him to remain in the attorney general's work as a means to protect the work of special lawyers so that, when concluded, the public would have confidence that they were not manipulated, according to someone familiar with his thoughts.
Even after he arrived at the Department of Justice, Whitaker kept frustrating about the length of special attorney checks and doubts about Mueller's authority, someone familiar with the matter said. He questioned the ability of Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to give Mueller very wide discretion and wanted to explore the boundaries of what Mueller was researching, even though Rosenstein made the "walled" Session office of this problem, this person said. Whitaker, however, believed that the Session had no choice but to resign from the matter, the person said.
Even though Whitaker is Mueller's main supervisor, it is not immediately clear whether that means Rosenstein will step down. The Justice Department official said that under normal circumstances, the deputy attorney general would likely play an active and active role in overseeing such high-profile examinations, and they had no reason to believe that Rosenstein would now be cut off.
Whitaker was almost unknown in the Session before becoming the head of his staff. Someone familiar with the matter said he entered the White House radar through conservative circles in Iowa, his TV appearance and relations with the Federalist Society and other conservative groups. When the previous chief of staff at Sessions, Jody Hunt, was away, the Session brought Whitaker to an interview and came to like it, the person said. Other people said that it remained true forever after Whitaker succeeded him.
Whitaker was a top class helper who was heavily loaded for the Session, imposing on the Justice Department his personal philosophy about starting with the final goal. His style rubs a lot of wrong ways, and sometimes Justice Department officials push back his demands. Justice Department officials said that it took over for their superiors, at least, "awkward," because the chief of staff usually went with the attorney general.