Several lawmakers demanded on Wednesday that Whitaker immediately recuse himself from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of purported Trump campaign collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential contest, while Senator Bernie Sanders warned Trump of possible impeachment.
Earlier in the day, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions submitted his resignation at the request of Trump, who subsequently named Whitaker, Sessions’s chief of staff, as acting attorney general.
Whitaker has previously questioned the scope of the Mueller probe, writing an opinion column for CNN last year charging that the investigation would be going too far if expanded to include Trump family finances. Trump has repeatedly called the investigation a “witch hunt,” while Russia has repeatedly and emphatically denied that any collusion took place.
Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Patrick Leahy echoed Booker’s remarks in calling for Whitaker’s recusal.
Senator Elizabeth Warren warned that Trump’s decision to ask for Sessions' resignation followed by the appointment of Whitaker as acting attorney general “brings us one step closer to a constitutional crisis.”
As the top official at the Justice Department, Whitaker is now in charge of the Mueller probe because he outranks Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who took charge due to Sessions' recusal.
“Whitaker’s appointment raises blaring alarms about the acceleration of obstruction of justice and a fundamental attack on the rule of law in our country," Senator Ron Wyden tweeted. “Congress must act right now to protect the special counsel’s investigation.”
Trump’s nomination of a permanent replacement for Sessions will require confirmation by the US Senate, which remains in Republican control following midterm elections.