Top Democrats urge acting attorney general to step aside from Russia probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top Democrats stepped up pressure Sunday on Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to step aside from overseeing a special counsel probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, vowing to order him to testify early next year.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, the expected incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Sunday the committee plans to subpoena Whitaker to testify next year as its first witness. “He should recuse himself. He has expressed total hostility to the investigation,” Nadler said on the ABC News show “This Week.” “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 advised Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing Special Counsel Mueller’s probe. “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.

Democrats have also questioned if Whitaker was properly appointed to the position. “If he doesn’t recuse himself, if he has any involvement whatsoever in this Russia probe, we are going to find out whether he made commitments to the president about the probe, whether he is serving as a back channel to the President or his lawyers about the probe, whether he is doing anything to interfere with the probe,” said Adam Schiff, presumed chair of the House Intelligence Committee, on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

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