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McKenna: What could happen to the Mueller investigation after Sessions’ exit

Matthew Whitaker. (AP)

The exit of Jeff Sessions from the Office of the Attorney General has some worried the investigation into Russian meddling into the 2016 election will come under attack. But politics aren’t so simple, according to former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna.

“I don’t think the president can end the Mueller investigation,” McKenna told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “But I think that the Department of Justice – through the acting Attorney General, and then the eventual appointed Attorney General – could take steps to restrict the investigation…”

“And if you look at the letter that Rosenstein based the appointment of (Robert) Mueller on, it is about potential Russian-Trump campaign collusion,” he said. “So they could rein the investigation in, potentially, to not stray into other areas that they come across like the Trump family finances.”

The president has sharply criticized anything that chips away at the validity of his election — such as any notion a foreign government aided in his victory — attacking any threatening narrative as fake news or hoaxes. The president has come under scrutiny for firing James Comey, the FBI director who first helmed the investigation. Now there is worry surrounding special counsel Robert Mueller who currently leads it.

Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, will be stepping in. Sessions had recused himself from any involvement in the ongoing investigation. But Whitaker has no intention of doing so, and has publicly spoken about his opposition to the investigation.

In response, lawmakers could strengthen the special counsel through the law. But McKenna says it’s more likely that Congress will use its subpoena power to further the aims of the investigation, even to see information Mueller has already collected. It’s entirely possible as Democrats have just taken majority control of Congress.

“So Mueller now has some pretty important allies in the House of Representatives; in persons of these new committee chairs that Democrats will appoint … those chairs, and the next speaker of the house could use their subpoena power to try to learn more about what Mueller is uncovering,” McKenna said. “They could call Mueller over to testify … but eventually a report has to be provided by Mueller.”

“And when that report comes out, not only will everyone get to see what he turned up, but any steps the attorney general takes or has taken to limit the investigation … that’s going to be part of the report as well,” he added. “That’s why it’s risky for the acting attorney general to do too much to limit the investigation, because it is all going to be public. If he goes overboard in limiting the scope of the investigation, there will be hell to pay on Capitol Hill.”

Lawmakers weigh in on Whitaker

Shortly after Sessions resigned, Congressman Adam Smith responded with the following statement:

As Attorney General, Jeff Sessions actively undermined voting rights and civil rights. Sessions has a horrific record when it comes to protecting the individual rights of American citizens, and I expressed my serious concerns with him at the time that he was nominated. I am however, worried that Sessions’ firing today could possibly signal an effort by President Trump to undermine the ongoing Mueller investigation into the foreign interference that took place during the 2016 election. We in Congress will do everything we can to push back against that eventuality. We must affirm our commitment to protecting the integrity of the Mueller investigation and making sure the President does not interfere with its conclusions.

Democrat Nancy Pelosi responded with concerns that Matthew Whitaker was unable to act fairly.

Republican Mitt Romney also weighed in.

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