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The new acting AG wrote a CNN op-ed saying the Mueller probe should be curtailed

Matthew Whitaker (right) smiled as Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrived to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington last year.
Matthew Whitaker (right) smiled as Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrived to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington last year.(AFP/Getty Images)

What are acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker’s views on the Mueller investigation? The answer may lie in a 2017 op-ed article on CNN.com he wrote, arguing that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation should not extend to the finances of President Trump and his family.

Citing CNN reports that Mueller could be looking into possible financial crimes that were unconnected to the 2016 election, Whitaker wrote that he agreed with Trump that the investigation should be limited to possible Trump campaign collusion with the Russians.

“Mueller has come to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing,” Whitaker wrote.

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“This information is deeply concerning to me. It does not take a lawyer or even a former federal prosecutor like myself to conclude that investigating Donald Trump’s finances or his family’s finances falls completely outside of the realm of his 2016 campaign and allegations that the campaign coordinated with the Russian government or anyone else. That goes beyond the scope of the appointment of the special counsel,” Whitaker wrote.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in appointing Mueller, ordered him to investigate possible Russian collusion and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” The words appeared to allow Mueller broad scope.

But Whitaker argued that people were taking the phrase “out of context.”

He said that any investigation into the finances of Trump or his family would require Mueller to return to Rosenstein for additional authority.

He ended with a call for Rosenstein to order Mueller to “limit the scope of his investigation to the four corners of the order appointing him special counsel.”

Warning that prosecutors can become overzealous “with calamitous results,” he said that if Rosenstein didn’t curb the investigation, it would “start to look like a political fishing expedition.”

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“This would not only be out of character for a respected figure like Mueller, but also could be damaging to the President of the United States and his family -- and by extension, to the country,” he concluded.

Top Democrats immediately grew concerned that Whitaker would make a move against Mueller’s investigation.

A Justice Department official said Whitaker would assume authority over Mueller’s investigation. Sessions had recused himself from the investigation, leaving it to be overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who also has had strained relations with Trump, but is considered safe in his position for the moment.

“While the President may have the authority to replace the Attorney General, this must not be the first step in an attempt to impede, obstruct or end the Mueller investigation,” Senator Mark Warner said in tweets. “No one is above the law and any effort to interfere with the Special Counsel’s investigation would be a gross abuse of power by the President.”

“Given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation, Mr. Whitaker should recuse himself from its oversight for the duration of his time as acting attorney general,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in tweets. “Clearly, the President has something to hide.”

Whitaker, who moved up to acting attorney general after serving as Sessions’ chief of staff, was a CNN legal commentator and executive director of a group called the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust at the time of the op-ed piece, according to his LinkedIn page.

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Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.