December 7, 2018 / 8:01 PM / 2 days ago

Justice Department office gave advice on acting AG's role in Russia probe: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Justice Department ethics office has received requests for advice and issued guidance about Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker’s role in the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the Washington Post reported on Friday.

U.S. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker boards Air Force One for travel to Kansas City with U.S. President Donald Trump from Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S. December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Citing information about department records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Post said it was unclear who had asked the Justice Department’s Professional Responsibility Advisory Office for guidance, and what advice the office had offered.

“But the records’ existence shows, for the first time, that questions about Whitaker’s potential control over an investigation that implicates President Trump are a point of discussion within the Justice Department,” the Post said.

Critics have urged Whitaker to step aside from overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the election and any collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump’s campaign.

Trump named Whitaker a month ago to temporarily head the Justice Department after the resignation of Jeff Sessions, whom Trump had repeatedly criticized for removing himself from the Russia probe.

Democrats in Congress have said they fear Whitaker could undermine or even fire Mueller after he expressed negative opinions about the probe before joining the Justice Department as Sessions’ chief of staff in October 2017.

The Post said the advisory office acknowledged it had found the records in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Benjamin Wittes and Scott Anderson of the Lawfare blog, who shared it with the paper.

They had asked for requests for advice or guidance arising from Whitaker’s possible involvement in the Russia probe and any advice or opinion provided by the office on ethical or legal issues arising from Whitaker’s role.

“The office said it had found 13 pages of records that were responsive to those requests,” the Post said.

The office said it had found no records of “authorizations or determinations,” suggesting it may not have reached formal conclusions about whether Whitaker should oversee the Russia probe, the Post said.

The office did not provide any of the documents, the Post said.

Trump condemns Mueller’s investigation as a witch hunt and denies his campaign colluded with Russia. Moscow denies any interference in the election.

The Republican president said on Friday he would nominate former Attorney General William Barr to fill the top job at the U.S. Justice Department again.

Reporting by Mohammad Zargham

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