Some House Democrats scratched their heads in confusion after acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker told reporters Monday he believes the special counsel investigation into Russian election interference is “close to being completed.”
“It doesn’t jive with what I’m hearing,” Rep. Karen Bass said on Tuesday of Whitaker’s comments.
Bass, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee that will interview Whitaker next week, cited the arrest last week of former Trump political adviser Roger Stone and the recent extension for at least six more months of the grand jury that has handed down the special counsel’s charges so far as evidence that Robert Mueller still has heavy lifting to do. On Tuesday, Stone pleaded not guilty in a D.C. court to charges that include lying to Congress.
“I don’t have any reason to think that what [Whitaker] said makes sense,” Bass said.
Other Democrats suggested that the acting AG — who said Monday that he has been briefed on Mueller’s probe despite multiple ethics officials at the Justice Department advising him to recuse himself from overseeing it — was out of line for publicly surmising about the timeline of an ongoing investigation.
“I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as possible,” Whitaker said Monday after suggesting Mueller was close to finishing his work.
Disclosing that a federal investigation is nearing its end could signal to potential witnesses that they should stick it out and decline to fully cooperate with investigators, some Democrats argued, calling the acting AG’s comments “inappropriate.”
“Sometimes if you start talking about a timeline, you might be encouraging certain witnesses to wait it out, who may not want to testify or who may not want to voluntarily cooperate with the special counsel,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., who is on the House Intelligence Committee. “You have other witnesses who might feel that the investigation is going a certain way and therefore it might alter their willingness to come forward.”
Krishnamoorthi cautioned that he did not know what Whitaker’s “intention” was for discussing the probe’s possible timeline. But given Whitaker’s past comments about the special counsel, Krishnamoorthi is “very concerned” about the acting AG’s intention.
Other Democrats speculated that Stone’s arrest last week does not signal the investigation is drawing to a close. In fact, it could mean the opposite.
Rep. Ted Lieu, another California Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, argued that the nature of Stone’s arrest suggested investigators might be looking for more evidence as they build their cases against former Trump officials.
FBI officers showed up to Stone’s Florida doorstep with an arrest warrant heavily armed, a routine procedure for high-profile arrests.
“One reason they did the FBI raid of Roger Stone the way they did was to get evidence from him and his properties,” Lieu said. “Based on that, I think it’s hard to know when the investigation will conclude because who knows what the evidence might turn up? Or Roger Stone may decide to cooperate. And that may lead to all sorts of additional lines of inquiry. So I think it’s quite bizarre for AG Whitaker to have made that statement.”
Whitaker has agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday, Feb. 8.