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Department of Justice Chief of Staff Matt Whitaker. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker — the Department of Justice chief of staff President Trump appointed to lead the department after Jeff Sessions' resignation — is a critic of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation who wrote in a CNN op-ed last year that the investigation was "going too far."

Why it matters: The Justice Department oversees the Mueller investigation. A DOJ official told the Washington Post that Whitaker will assume authority over the probe, which had been run by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.

Traditionally, the Senate-confirmed deputy attorney general — in this case, Rosenstein — would step in as acting attorney general in the event of a top vacancy. Trump has instead chosen his own pick, which is likely to raise questions about whether the White House wants Whitaker to take a more hard-line stance on the investigation.

The background: Whitaker was formerly a U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa and ran for Senate in Iowa in 2014, but lost in a primary to Joni Ernst. He played college football at the University of Iowa, where he was a tight end and went to the Rose Bowl.

  • Whitaker is considered a Trump loyalist, and "has served as what one White House aide called a 'balm' on the relationship between the president and the Justice Department," according to the New York Times' Katie Benner and Maggie Haberman.
  • White House chief of staff John Kelly has called Whitaker the White House's " eyes and ears" at DOJ, per the Times.
  • In 2016, Whitaker wrote an op-ed for USA Today headlined, "I would indict Hillary Clinton: Opposing view.""
  • He has also publicly defended Trump's decision to fire James Comey and Donald Trump Jr.'s decision to take a meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
  • He's been floated before as a replacement for Rosenstein and White House counsel Don McGahn.

What to watch: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has already called for Whitaker's recusal from the Mueller probe. We're likely to see more of this from House Democrats, who now have subpoena power and are expected to launch a slew of investigations of their own into Trump's connections to Russia.

Go deeper

Updated 28 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

NRA declares bankruptcy, says it will reincorporate in Texas

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) speaks during CPAC in 2016. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The National Rifle Association said Friday it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and will seek to reincorporate in Texas, calling New York, where it is currently registered, a "toxic political environment."

The big picture: The move comes just months after New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit to dissolve the NRA, alleging the group committed fraud by diverting roughly $64 million in charitable donations over three years to support reckless spending by its executives.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden: "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution

Joe Biden. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden promised to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine manufacturing, as he outlined a five-point plan to administer 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations in the first months of his presidency.

Why it matters: With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention warning of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus, Biden is trying to establish how he’ll approach the pandemic differently than President Trump.