Graham says acting attorney general doesn't have to recuse himself in Russia probe

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham says he doesn't think Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker should recuse himself in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Graham added that he believes the president will appoint a permanent attorney general "early next year," which would leave Whitaker in his role of acting attorney general for months. Whitaker's skepticism of the scope and authority of Mueller's role has prompted some Democrats call for him to either recuse or step aside.

Graham told "Face the Nation" host Margaret Brennan on Sunday he believes the acting attorney general was "appointed appropriately" and "legally," and he's "confident" Whitaker won't interfere in Mueller's ongoing investigation. 

"I talked with Matt yesterday," Graham said. "I'm going to meet with him next week when we get our schedules aligned here. I think he was appropriately appointed legally. I don't think he has to recuse himself. I am confident the Mueller investigation will be allowed to come to a good solid conclusion, that there'll be no political influence put on Mr. Mueller by Mr. Whitaker to do anything other than Mr. Mueller's job. I'm confident that Mr. Mueller will be allowed to do his job without interference."

Whitaker took on oversight of Mueller's investigation after President Trump announced Whitaker would replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Twitter Wednesday. Mr. Trump's Twitter announcement, hours after Tuesday's midterm elections, launched Whitaker into the spotlight. 

Formerly Sessions' chief of staff, Whitaker had questioned the scope of Mueller's investigation and made some comments interpreted as critical of Mueller's appointment itself. Sessions had recused himself in the Russia probe, citing his involvement in the Trump campaign, an action the president never seemed to forgive. 

Mr. Trump grew testy with CNN's Abby Phillips earlier this week when she asked him he if will ask Whitaker to rein in the Mueller probe. 

"What a stupid question," the president said, adding that Phillips "asks a lot of stupid questions."

On another topic, Graham didn't express particular concern over the president's treatment of allies during his trip to Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron said in a speech celebrating Armistice Day in Paris Sunday that the liberal world order is being undermined by nationalist forces. Mr. Trump has declared that he is a nationalist. 

"No, I think he's got a political problem at home in France," Graham said of Macron. "I like the idea of Trump pushing NATO to pay more, getting out of the ballistic missile treaty. The treaty doesn't cover China and North Korea. Getting out of the Rhine deal was good. Republican presidents have a hard time in Europe."

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.