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In Light Of Reports That Acting AG Matthew Whitaker Rejected DOJ Ethics Officials’ Advice And Chose Not To Recuse Himself From Overseeing Special Counsel Probe, Schumer Demands DOJ Provide Specifics Of Whitaker’s Involvement In Special Counsel Investigation And To Investigate Process That Led To Whitaker’s Decision

In A New Letter To Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, Schumer Demands Detailed Information Surrounding Mr. Whitaker’s Involvement In Special Counsel InvestigationMr. Whitaker’s Long Public Record Of Bias Against Special Counsel Investigation Raises Serious Concerns 

Despite DOJ’s Career Ethics Officials  Advising Him Otherwise, Mr. Whitaker Has Chosen Not To Recuse Himself From Overseeing The Special Counsel Investigation— Schumer Asks Rosenstein To Investigate The Propriety Of Mr. Whitaker’s Decision To Disregard Ethics Advice 

Schumer: Congress And The American Public Deserve Answers

Washington, D.C. – In light of Thursday’s confusion caused by conflicting reports on the ethics guidance given to Acting Attorney General Whitaker regarding potential recusal from overseeing the Special Counsel investigation, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein demanding answers concerning Mr. Whitaker’s involvement in the Special Counsel Investigation. Schumer added that not until Thursday evening did the DOJ’s Office of Legislative Affairs reveal in a letter that Mr. Whitaker had chosen not to recuse himself, despite being advised otherwise by the department’s career ethics officials.

Mr. Whitaker’s long public record of bias against the investigation has raised doubts about the integrity of the supervision of the Special Counsel’s investigation. To this end, Schumer requested detailed information regarding Mr. Whitaker’s engagement in the investigation—including all ethics guidance provided, the date he assumed supervision of the Special Counsel investigation, scope of access to non-public information, any and all actions taken by Mr. Whitaker related to the investigation and more—so that Congress can better understand the situation and proceed with next steps. Additionally, Schumer requested that Deputy AG Rosenstein assign the Department of Justice Inspector General to investigate the propriety of Mr. Whitaker’s decision to disregard the advice of career ethics officials.  

Leader Schumer’s letter can be found here and below:

December 22, 2018

The Honorable Rod J. Rosenstein

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC  20015

Dear Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein:

Thursday was an extremely troubling day for the reputation of the Department of Justice.  Early in the day, the Department told the media that ethics officials had advised Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker that he did not need to recuse himself from supervision of the Special Counsel investigation.  Then, later in the day, that story changed as reporters began to discover that it was untrue.  Finally, at 7:53 pm, your office of legislative affairs sent a letter to me and to other Members of Congress informing us that Mr. Whitaker has chosen not to recuse himself -- notwithstanding the fact that he was advised by the Department’s career ethics officials that “he should recuse himself from supervision of the Special Counsel investigation because it was their view that a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts likely would question the impartiality of the Acting Attorney General.”  The rest of the letter consists of a great deal of tortured logic and embarrassingly strained rationalizations for Mr. Whitaker’s indefensible decision to disregard the recommendation of career ethics officials.

Because you appointed Special Counsel Mueller and have supervised his investigation since its inception, and because I don’t know whether anyone else in the building is exercising any adult supervision, I am writing you today find out what in the world is going on in the Justice Department.  For reasons that have not been explained, it has taken weeks for the Department to answer a simple question that I and other Members of Congress have asked repeatedly:  whether Mr. Whitaker will be recused from supervising the Special Counsel investigation.

The answer, by the way, should have been obvious from the outset.  As the Department’s own ethics officials advised, he should unquestionably be recused -- because of his long public record of bias against the investigation.  Instead, the country now faces a situation in which the integrity of the supervision of an investigation involving the President of the United States is deeply suspect.  That is a terrible thing for the nation.

In view of all of the confusion your Department caused Thursday and of the very serious concerns raised by Mr. Whitaker’s involvement in the Mueller investigation, I request that you immediately provide Congress and the American public with answers to the following questions:

  1. On what date did Mr. Whitaker assume supervision of the Special Counsel investigation?
  2. Did you concur in Mr. Whitaker’s decision not to recuse himself from the investigation?  If so, why?  If not, how was your disagreement communicated to him or to others? 
  3. Which officials comprised the ad-hoc “committee” that was selected by Mr. Whitaker to advise him on his ethics decision; what training or expertise do those individuals have in government ethics; and why were those officials selected to advise Mr. Whitaker instead of career ethics officials?
  4. Please provide all ethics guidance provided to Mr. Whitaker during both his service as Chief of Staff and as Acting Attorney General.
  5. What access did Mr. Whitaker have to non-public information regarding the Special Counsel investigation prior to his elevation to the position of Acting Attorney General?
  6. Please describe any and all actions taken by Mr. Whitaker to date to with regard to any aspect of the Special Counsel investigation, including any attempts to influence, interfere with, or limit the authority, scope or funding of the Office of Special Counsel or its work.
  7. Please consider this letter as a standing request for you to personally inform Congress and the public if Mr. Whitaker takes any future action, in any manner and for any reason, to influence, interfere with, limit or constrain the Special Counsel investigation.

Finally, I request that pursuant to your authority under DOJ regulations, you assign the Department of Justice Inspector General to investigate the propriety of Mr. Whitaker’s decision to disregard the advice of career ethics officials and the process that led to that decision, including the role played by the ad-hoc group of advisors as well as whether and to what extent career ethics officials may have felt pressured in any way during that process.


Charles E. Schumer

Democratic Leader