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

8 hours ago - Health

Fauci says if people won't wear masks, maybe it should be mandated

Anthony Fauci. Photo: Graeme Jennings- Pool/Getty Images

NIAID director Anthony Fauci told CNN on Friday evening that if "people are not wearing masks, then maybe we should be mandating it."

Why it matters: Fauci made the comments the same day the U.S. hit its highest daily COVID-19 case count since the pandemic began.

Harris to Black voters: Casting a ballot is about honoring your ancestors

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris speaks at a "Get Out The Vote" rally at Morehouse College. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Kamala Harris appealed to Black voters in Georgia on Friday, urging them to "honor the ancestors" by casting ballots, and again calling President Trump a "racist."

Why it matters: The U.S. saw a significant decline in African-American voter turnout between 2012 and 2016, reaching its lowest point since 2000. Higher turnout among Black Americans this year could tip the balance in favor of Democrats in key battleground states, including Georgia.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Fauci: Trump hasn't been to a COVID task force meeting in months.
  2. Sports: The youth sports exodus continues — Big Ten football is back.
  3. Health: U.S. hits highest daily COVID-19 case count since pandemic began —AstraZeneca to resume vaccine trial in U.S.How to help save 130,000 lives.
  4. Retail: Santa won't greet kids at Macy's this year.
  5. World: Spain and France exceed 1 million cases.

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!