DOJ's Whitaker: Russia probe 'close' to completion

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker's words are a departure for the Justice Department, which rarely comments on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The two-year probe has charged 34 individuals, including several close to the president.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker announces an indictment on violations including bank and wire fraud at the Justice Department in Washington on Jan. 28, 2019. At the end of an unrelated news conference, Mr. Whitaker said that the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference was close to completion.

The special counsel's Russia probe is "close to being completed," the acting attorney general said in the first official sign that the investigation may be wrapping up.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker's comments Monday were a departure for the Justice Department, which rarely comments on the state of the investigation into whether President Trump's campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

"The investigation is, I think, close to being completed," Mr. Whitaker said Monday at the end of an unrelated news conference in Washington. He said he had been "fully briefed" on the probe.

Whitaker did not elaborate or give any timetable for the end of a nearly two-year investigation that has shadowed Mr. Trump's presidency.

So far, special counsel Robert Mueller has charged 34 people, including several close to the president. But he has yet to accuse anyone close to the Trump campaign of conspiring with the Kremlin to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton and help Trump win the election.

Whitaker, who is seen as a Trump ally, took over the Justice Department – and oversight of Mr. Mueller's probe – after Jeff Sessions resigned as attorney general in November at Trump's request.

Whitaker has drawn criticism for not recusing himself from the Russia investigation, even though he has publicly criticized it in the past. A top Justice Department ethics official advised him to step aside out of an "abundance of caution," but Whitaker declined to do so.

According to Justice Department regulations, Mueller has to provide a report to the attorney general at the conclusion of his investigation laying out his prosecution decisions.

But it's unclear what form the report will take or whether it will be released publicly.

And depending on when Mueller wraps up, the report may not go to Whitaker. Trump has nominated William Barr to serve as the next attorney general. His confirmation hearing was held this month and he's awaiting a vote in the Senate.

Mr. Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month that he wants to release as much information as possible about Mueller's findings, but he has hedged on specifics.

Trump has slammed the Russia investigation as a "witch hunt" and says there was no collusion.

The evidence so far shows that a broad range of Trump associates had Russia-related contacts during the 2016 presidential campaign and transition period, and several lied about the communication. Those contacts, according to Mueller's indictments and US intelligence agencies, occurred while the Russian government carried out a multifaceted effort to influence the 2016 presidential campaign and attempt to sway it Trump's way.

On Friday, longtime Trump confidante Roger Stone became the sixth Trump associate to be charged by Mueller.

The others are Trump's former national security adviser, his campaign chairman, his former personal lawyer, and two other campaign aides.

Mr. Stone faces a Tuesday morning arraignment in federal court, where he is expected to plead not guilty to charges that he lied to lawmakers, engaged in witness tampering, and obstructed a congressional investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Though most defendants facing charges tend to stay quiet for fear of inflaming prosecutors or a judge, Stone has opted for a different tack since his predawn arrest Friday.

Stone staged an impromptu news conference outside a Florida courthouse, made the rounds on weekend television interviews, and mocked the probe on Instagram, posting a cartoonish image of Mueller holding a "nothingburger" – just a hamburger bun with no meat.

Also Monday, a judge delayed the sentencing of Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort in Virginia after he was convicted of eight financial crimes last year.

The sentencing is being delayed as a judge in Washington decides whether Mr. Manafort intentionally lied to investigators.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to DOJ's Whitaker: Russia probe 'close' to completion
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2019/0129/DOJ-s-Whitaker-Russia-probe-close-to-completion
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe