WASHINGTON — After receiving no response from the Justice Department on their initial request, Democrats on Capitol Hill again demanded an in-person briefing with the department's chief ethics official about any guidance may have received about his possible recusal from the special counsel's inquiry into Russian meddling in U.S. elections.
In a letter to Assistant Attorney General Lee J. Lofthus on Thursday, Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, along with other top party legislators, said they wanted to know whether Lofthus or other ethics officers advised Whitaker to recuse himself from Robert Mueller's investigation when he assumed his interim role in early November.
"It is our understanding that, 14 months after Mr. Whitaker joined the Department, his ethics review is still incomplete," Democratic lawmaker wrote. "The Department has offered no public explanation for this extraordinary delay, nor have we received any reply to our letter. This is unacceptable."
Afterand appointed Whitaker to the position a day after the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats have denounced the White House decision's to install an acting attorney general who is not currently Senate-confirmed (he has been Senate-confirmed in the past, when he was a U.S. attorney) and who has been publicly critical of the special counsel's probe.
In the fall of 2017, a month before Sessions hired him as chief of staff, Whitaker wrote in an opinion article for CNN that "It is time for Rosenstein, who is the acting attorney general for the purposes of this investigation, to order Mueller to limit the scope of his investigation to the four corners of the order appointing him special counsel."
When the president forced Sessions to resign, Whitaker assumed responsibility for oversight of the probe from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel last May.
Despite the possibility of a contentious confirmation process, the White House is reportedly considering. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, a staunch Trump ally, and William Barr, who served as attorney general under President George H. W. Bush, are also top contenders for the role.