WASHINGTON • Mr Matthew Whitaker, President Donald Trump's new Acting Attorney-General, has no intention of recusing himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller, despite having openly criticised his Russia probe, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Mr Whitaker would, however, consult Justice Department ethics officials if a particular matter arose, said the person, who asked to remain anonymous.
Democrats have demanded that Mr Whitaker step back from Mr Mueller's continuing investigation based on his past criticism of the probe. Mr Trump named Mr Whitaker to run the Justice Department temporarily after ousting Attorney-General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday.
As Mr Mueller's new boss, Mr Whitaker has significant power to hobble or even halt the investigation that Mr Trump has long called a "witch hunt". Mr Mueller is probing Russia's interference in the 2016 election, whether Mr Trump or any of his associates conspired in the meddling and whether Mr Trump obstructed justice.
Former Justice Department officials agreed with Democratic lawmakers who have demanded that Mr Whitaker recuse himself - as Mr Sessions did last year. That left Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein in charge of the Russia probe until Mr Trump replaced Mr Sessions.
As a CNN commentator, Mr Matthew Whitaker openly argued last year that Mr Mueller's probe needed to be curtailed.
"We're in totally uncharted waters," said Mr Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor. The Justice Department "must be above and beyond any sense of impropriety for people to have confidence in the criminal justice system", he noted.
As a CNN commentator, Mr Whitaker openly argued last year that Mr Mueller's probe needed to be curtailed, even describing a scenario in which an acting attorney-general does not fire Mr Mueller but "just reduces his budget to so low that his investigations grind to almost a halt".