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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

Scoop: Stephanie Ruhle to replace Brian Williams on MSNBC

Photo: Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

MSNBC will soon announce plans to move morning anchor Stephanie Ruhle to the 11 pm ET hour that Brian Williams turned into an elite destination, two sources familiar with the move tell Axios.

Details: The 9 am ET hour, currently hosted by Ruhle, will become part of MSNBC's flagship morning show, "Morning Joe," which currently runs from 6 am to 9 am ET.

Oath Keepers leader denied bail on Capitol riot sedition charge

Oath Keepers co-founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

A federal judge ordered Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes to remain jailed Wednesday until trial on charges stemming from the Capitol riot.

Why it matters: The judge said the most prominent far-right figure charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection had access to weapons and his alleged "continued advocacy for violence against the federal government" gave credence to prosecutors' view that, if released, Rhodes could endanger others.

Who in Congress is talking about Ukraine the most

Data: Quorum; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Mentions of Ukraine or Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in congressional statements and social media posts have been on the rise — with nearly 1,000 already this month, according to data from Quorum.

Why it matters: The growing threat of a Russian invasion has been mirrored by a growth in Ukraine-related chatter.

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