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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

Stalemate over filibuster freezes Congress

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell's inability to quickly strike a deal on a power-sharing agreement in the new 50-50 Congress is slowing down everything from the confirmation of President Biden's nominees to Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

Why it matters: Whatever final stance Schumer takes on the stalemate, which largely comes down to Democrats wanting to use the legislative filibuster as leverage over Republicans, will be a signal of the level of hardball we should expect Democrats to play with Republicans in the new Senate.

Dave Lawler, author of World
2 hours ago - World

Biden opts for five-year extension of New START nuclear treaty with Russia

Putin at a military parade. Photo: Valya Egorshin/NurPhoto via Getty

President Biden will seek a five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms control pact with Russia before it expires on Feb. 5, senior officials told the Washington Post.

Why it matters: The 2010 treaty is the last remaining constraint on the arsenals of the world's two nuclear superpowers, limiting the number of deployed nuclear warheads and the bombers, missiles and submarines which can deliver them.

Updated 2 hours ago - Technology

Facebook refers Trump ban to independent Oversight Board for review

Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

Facebook's independent Oversight Board has accepted a referral from the platform to review its decision to indefinitely suspend former President Trump.

Why it matters: While Trump critics largely praised the company's decision to remove the then-president's account for potential incitement of violence, many world leaders and free speech advocates pushed back on the decision, arguing it sets a dangerous precedent for free speech moving forward.

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