WASHINGTON • Acting US Attorney-General Matthew Whitaker has decided not to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, disregarding advice from his own ethics officials, a high-ranking Justice Department official said.
The decision by Mr Whitaker, known for making comments critical of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe before being appointed last month by President Donald Trump, was conveyed in a letter to congressional leaders on Thursday by Assistant Attorney-General Stephen Boyd.
Mr Boyd said department ethics officials determined that Mr Whitaker lacked any personal, political or business conflicts that would disqualify him from supervision of Mr Mueller's investigation.
Ethics officials concluded, however, that if their recommendation were sought "they would advise that the acting attorney-general should recuse himself" because "a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts likely would question" Mr Whitaker's impartiality.
Mr Boyd said "the ultimate decision about whether or not to recuse from a matter in a case such as this rests with the acting attorney-general".
Mr Mueller's investigation, which Mr Trump has derided as a "witch hunt", is also examining whether Mr Trump's election campaign had colluded with Moscow and any possible obstruction of justice.
The probe has already ensnared Mr Trump's former campaign manager, former personal lawyer and his former national security adviser.
Mr Trump has denied wrongdoing and Moscow has said there was no interference.
The President's frequent criticism of the probe has raised concerns that he may attempt to shut it down, putting a spotlight on the top Justice Department officials overseeing it.