WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker should not recuse himself because of comments he made to the media criticizing Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe prior to his appointment.
“I see everybody on television, all these lawyers, all these law enforcement people making comment after comment. They never asked to get recused,” Trump said while departing the White House en route to France. “The fact that you go on Fox or CNN or MSNBC or anybody. You make a comment, you’d have nobody left to choose. You would have absolutely nobody left.”
Trump said that he did not speak to Whitaker before his appointment about the investigation, which covers potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government — misconduct that the White House has vehemently denied.
The president also repeatedly emphasized that he does not know Whitaker, who served as ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff, but that Whitaker is “very, very highly thought of.”
Trump said that criticism against the appointee is something that unfairly surrounds anybody who serves in the administration.
“No matter who I put in, they go after him. It’s very sad,” Trump lamented.
Whitaker has been at the center of controversy since taking the reins at the department on Wednesday, the day after Sessions was forced out.
In addition to concerns over Whitaker’s previous comments, which include false claims that there was no Russian interference in the election and a suggestion that the attorney general should defund the probe, critics of the president have suggested that the acting official’s appointment was illegal because it dodged Senate confirmation.
Trump brushed off those concerns, noting that Whitaker was once approved to serve as U.S. attorney in Iowa and that Mueller was not appointed by the Senate either.
“Mueller, a big complaint people have, Mueller was not Senate-confirmed,” Trump said. “Why didn’t they get him Senate-confirmed? He should have been Senate-confirmed.”
“He’s very conflicted,” Trump added, without elaborating.