The Senate’s top Democrat has asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker’s communications with the White House, citing concerns that Whitaker might have shared with President Trump confidential information emerging from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether anyone in Trump’s campaign conspired with those efforts.
In a letter to inspector general Michael E. Horowitz, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday requested a formal probe into whether there were any “unlawful or improper communications” between Whitaker and the White House during Whitaker’s service as chief of staff to Trump’s former attorney general, Jeff Sessions. In that role, Whitaker was in touch regularly with Trump and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly.
Spokesmen for the Justice Department and the office of its inspector general did not immediately respond to Schumer’s letter.
Schumer said he was concerned that as acting attorney general, Whitaker could improperly disclose “confidential grand jury or investigative information from the Special Counsel investigation or any criminal investigation.” His letter notes that doing so could amount to “criminal contempt of court, obstruction of justice” — or violate long-standing policy about maintaining a firewall between the Justice Department and White House concerning information in criminal probes.
Schumer also wants Horowitz to investigate whether Whitaker “provided any assurance to the President, White House officials, or others regarding steps he or others may take with regard to the Special Counsel investigation, including any intention to interfere, obstruct, or refuse authorization of subpoenas or other investigative steps.”
In the course of Mueller’s probe, federal law enforcement officials have focused on members of the Trump campaign’s alleged contacts with Russian officials or their intermediaries.
The probe already has resulted in indictments or plea deals for former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former campaign aide Rick Gates, former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, along with a host of Russian officials and operatives.
Congressional Democrats have been concerned that Whitaker, who has supported the president’s unbridled criticism of Mueller’s probe, may have been named as Sessions’s successor to oversee its undoing. Many have called for Whitaker to recuse himself, while some sued this week to challenge his appointment as unlawful.
But the decision of whether to scrutinize Whitaker will be Horowitz’s, as the inspector general is under no obligation to launch a probe just because one lawmaker requests it.
Following a meeting with Whitaker last week, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) — a recent Trump ally and the likely heir apparent to lead the Senate Judiciary Committee next year — said he was sure Whitaker would not do anything “draconian” to Mueller’s probe.