Metro

Healey, other AGs call for Whitaker to recuse himself from Russia probe

Mass. Attorney General Maura Healey.
Lane Turner/Globe Staff/File 2018
Mass. Attorney General Maura Healey.

Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts is one of 19 Democratic state attorneys general who have written to acting US Attorney General Matt Whitaker, calling for him to recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

“Because a reasonable person could question your impartiality in the matter, your recusal is necessary to protect the essential and longstanding independence of the department,” the attorneys general said in the letter, which was written by Healey. “At various opportunities, you have suggested cutting the special counsel’s budget or limiting his authority to follow lines of inquiry.

“As prosecutors and law enforcement officials committed to the rule of law, we believe that the independent Special Counsel must have the full authority to investigate and, if warranted, prosecute any violations of federal law.”

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The letter, sent Thursday to Whitaker, also said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has “ably supervised the Special Counsel’s investigation from its outset. He should continue to do so, as Mr. Mueller’s work must proceed free from interference or supervision that would appear to many Americans to be biased.”

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Healey said in a tweet that a US attorney general “must lead an empowered and independent Department of Justice.”

Eighteen attorneys general signed the letter on Thursday. Maine’s attorney general, Janet Mills, added her signature on Friday, Healey’s office said.

Former attorney general Jeff Sessions, an early supporter of President Trump, was forced out a day after Tuesday’s midterm elections. Whitaker’s subsequent appointment by Trump immediately raised worries that he would curtail Mueller’s investigation into whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Trump has repeatedly called the investigation a “witch hunt,” and he has been critical of Sessions’ recusal from the Russia probe, which put Rosenstein in charge of it. Trump said Sessions’ recusal was “extremely unfair” and he wouldn’t have given him the job if he had known he would recuse himself.

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Whitaker, on the other hand, has no intention of recusing himself, according to people close to him.

A Republican party loyalist who was Sessions’ chief of staff, Whitaker has publicly questioned the probe. In a CNN op-ed, Whitaker called for limiting the scope of Mueller’s investigation. In a talk radio interview, he maintained there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Asked about Whitaker on Friday, Trump told journalists: ‘‘I don’t know Matt Whitaker. Matt Whitaker worked for Jeff Sessions, and he was always extremely highly thought of, and he still is. But I didn’t know Matt Whitaker. He worked for Attorney General Sessions.’’

The New York Times reported Whitaker has made several visits to Trump in the Oval Office.

Trump also said he had not spoken with Whitaker about Mueller’s probe.

Material from Globe wire services was used in this report. Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com