Trump denies talking to new acting attorney general about Mueller investigation

Trump denies talking to new acting attorney general about Mueller investigation
Americans rally in Vancouver in support of special counsel Robert Mueller
Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he's "profoundly concerned" that the new acting attorney general is someone who has criticized and publicly expressed skepticism about the Russia investigation. 

"From my perspective, it doesn't look good," Gonzales told CBC News in a phone interview.

Colbert: “So Trump just handpicked a guy who wants to stop the investigation into Donald Trump to be in charge of the investigation of Donald Trump. That’s like a defendant at a murder trial saying, ‘Your Honour, you’re fired. I’m going to have my friend Terry here take your seat. Now, then, Terry, if it please the court, did you throw that knife into the river like I asked? The correct answer is no.’”

Late night TV hosts make their comments heard as Jeff Sessions resigns

On Wednesday, Jeff Sessions resigned as the country's chief law enforcement officer. U.S. President Donald Trump announced by tweet that 49-year-old Matthew Whitaker, Sessions's former chief of staff, would take over as acting attorney general until a permanent replacement is found at a later date.

Trump had repeatedly criticized Sessions for recusing himself from any investigation into potential Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. That investigation is currently being lead by former FBI director Robert Mueller, who was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and has overseen the probe's work.

Thousands of people rally in support of Mueller in nationwide demonstrations — heres how it played out

When asked whether Whitaker would now assume control over the Mueller investigation, U.S. Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Flores said Whitaker would be "in charge of all matters" under the purview of the department.

Colbert: “Who on earth would be willing to go down in history as the man who stepped in to fire Robert Mueller? Enter new acting attorney general and Caucasian M&M, Matt Whitaker. Now, there is no way to know Whitaker’s stance on the Mueller investigation — unless you read his op-ed, ‘Mueller’s investigation of Trump is going too far.’”

Ex-FBI Agent: President Trump, dont say Youre Fired! to Mueller

Whitaker, who had a stint as a legal commentator for CNN, has been vocal in his criticism of Mueller's investigation and its scope. He once opined about a situation in which Trump could fire Sessions and then appoint an acting attorney general who could stifle the funding of Mueller's probe.

"I just don't understand it because why invite this kind of criticism or scrutiny which you knew it was going to come because of the comments he's made earlier," said Gonzales. "And [to] put him in this position at Justice to me is somewhat confounding."

Noah: “Just because Matt Whitaker came up with a hypothetical plan to fire Robert Mueller doesn’t mean that he actually thinks the Mueller investigation has gone too far — except there is the fact that he also wrote an op-ed that was literally called, ‘Mueller’s investigation of Trump has gone too far.’ Which to me is kind of a red flag.”

Gonzales, who was the attorney general in George W. Bush's administration from 2005 to 2007, said he doesn't know Whitaker, his qualifications or motivations, but there's a lot that calls into question his appointment.

“We’re like, forget the Democrats in the House. Clearly, the big news of the day is now going to be Trump and his fiery press conference,” Trevor Noah said on “The Daily Show.” “But then Trump stood up again and said, ‘Oh, you think I’m the story of the day? No, I’m the story of the day.’”

Gonzales said if a decision is made to curtail or end the Mueller probe, that shouldn't be made by the acting attorney general, but someone within the normal lines of the chain of authority, either the deputy attorney general or the solicitor general.

“We’re like, forget the Democrats in the House. Clearly, the big news of the day is now going to be Trump and his fiery press conference,” Trevor Noah said on “The Daily Show.” “But then Trump stood up again and said, ‘Oh, you think I’m the story of the day? No, I’m the story of the day.’”

He also said the line of succession within the Justice Department does not include the chief of staff and the fact that someone in that position would be made acting attorney general is "very odd." 

"I think if you were to ask anyone with DOJ experience they would say 'Huh? Why choose this person?'

"And to outsiders, it looks like he [Trump] chose this person because this person has committed to end this investigation, this person is loyal to Donald Trump."

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer 2/ Demonstrators in New York City stayed up late into the night. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon 3/ Mueller is believed have begun writing a final report on Russias interference in the 2016 US presidential election. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon Source: CNN

Gonzales resigned as attorney general under a cloud of controversy and amid accusations that the Justice Department has been used for political purposes. He was accused of dismissing several U.S. attorneys in 2006 for politically partisan purposes. Gonzales maintained the dismissals were rooted in lacklustre performance records.

Jeff Sessions resignation as attorney general on Wednesday sparked worries for the future of Muellers probe. Sessions vexed Trump by recusing himself from Muellers investigation in 2017, an act that Trump has berated him for throughout his presidency.

As attorney general, and earlier as White House counsel, he faced criticism for drafting controversial rules for military war tribunals, seeking to limit the legal rights of detainees at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 

Thousands of people protested across the US on Thursday to demand the protection of special counsel Robert Muellers investigation into the possible collusion between President Donald Trumps 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.

He had also pressed to reauthorize a controversial secret domestic spying program over the Justice Department's protests.

Trumps decision to name Matthew Whitaker as Sessions acting replacement fueled more concerns. Whitaker is considered by some to be a Trump loyalist who publicly spoke out against the Russia investigation.

It is a priority for CBC to create a website that is accessible to all Canadians including people with visual, hearing, motor and cognitive challenges.

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik 5/ Some of the demonstrations organizers said that acting Attorney General Matthew Whitakers appointment was a “deliberate attempt to obstruct the special counsels investigation.”

A Vancouver demonstration in support of special counsel Robert Mueller drew about 50 U.S. citizens and supporters on Thursday evening.

Whitaker also stated he would not recuse himself from the Mueller probe as attorney general, or approve any subpoena request from Mueller.

Demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. consulate at 1075 West Pender St., some wearing American flags and others toting signs with messages such as “no one is above the law.”

“[I’m here] to stop essentially lawlessness and the loss of the rule of law,” one demonstrator told Global News.

“I think it’s paramount to the solidity of American institutional existence, democracy itself.”

And Russian’s actions against our country are not limited to election interference. Russian organized crime figures – aided by the Russian government – promote health-care fraud, Internet fraud, insurance fraud and investment fraud in the United States. This results in hundreds of billions of dollars in losses each year to Americans – something we can no longer turn a blind eye to.

READ MORE: Robert Muellers final report on the Russian investigation is being written right now: reports

Under the 1999 law creating the positon of special counsel, Mueller works for the Justice Department. So the attorney general (or now the acting attorney general) has the authority to fire him – but only for "misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies."

Billed as an “emergency protest,” event organizers Democrats Abroad and Moveon.org described it as a demonstration against U.S. President Donald Trump’s “sabotage of the Mueller investigation.”

In fact, some news organizations were reporting Thursday that Mueller’s team has begun work on its final report. It is widely assumed that Mueller did not want to release his report during the midterm election campaign, to follow a Justice Department policy of refraining from actions during campaign season that could influence the outcome of elections.

Video: After Sessions firing, Sen. Manchin says country on “verge” of constitutional crisis

Mueller is investigating allegations of Russian meddling and collusion in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. consulate in Vancouver on Thursday in support of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. consulate in Vancouver on Thursday in support of special counsel Robert Mueller.

President Trump has said many times that there was “no collusion” between Russia and his campaign and “no obstruction” of the Mueller investigation. In addition, the president has often called the special counsel’s investigation a “witch hunt” that is investigating “a hoax.”

Demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. consulate in Vancouver on Thursday in support of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. consulate in Vancouver on Thursday in support of special counsel Robert Mueller.

On Wednesday, Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, raising the possibility that Sessions’ replacement — Matthew Whitaker — could seek to curtail Mueller’s investigation.

“[Trump] is essentially trying to obstruct justice,” said Cameron Mitchell Jr. with Democrats Abroad.

“There is a question as to whether this is even legal. Normally, even the acting attorney general needs to be appointed by the Senate and the Congress, and they need to vet and give their blessing. And that hasn’t occurred. So Donald Trump has just made another power grab. The constitution is shaking right now.”

Mitchell Jr. said Whitaker was improperly empowered, bypassing deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and argued that as a vocal opponent of the Mueller probe, Whitaker is in a conflict of interest.

He said many people fear Whitaker could try to wind down the investigation or even hide Mueller’s final report.

“This hearkens right back to Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal and the [Saturday Night] Massacre — we’re living it all over again.”

READ MORE: Whats next for the Mueller probe? Imminent charges and indictments are possible, experts say

The Saturday Night Massacre refers to an incident in 1973 when President Nixon ordered his attorney general and deputy attorney general to fire independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was investigating the Watergate scandal. Both refused and resigned, before Solicitor General Robert Bork, third in command at the Department of Justice, agreed to fire Cox.

The Vancouver protest was one of 900 such events being organized in U.S. and Canadian cities, including Victoria and Toronto, according to Democrats Abroad.