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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

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
34 mins ago - Science

NASA's Mars helicopter is a test for the future of space exploration

Ingenuity (left) with Perseverance on Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA is set to fly the first test flight of its tiny Ingenuity helicopter on Mars Sunday, marking the advent of drones for space exploration.

Why it matters: If successful, this flight will be the first time a human-built aircraft has flown on a world other than Earth, opening the door to new means of exploring planets far from our own.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

The global future is looking dark and stormy

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

A new 20-year-forecast for the world: increasingly fragmented and turbulent.

The big picture: A major report put out this week by the National Intelligence Council reflects a present rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. How the next two decades will unfold depends largely on whether new technologies will ultimately unite us — or continue to divide us.

11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Rep. Gaetz declares he's "not going anywhere" amid sex trafficking probe

Rep. Matt Gaetz. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) doubled down Friday night, saying he's not "going anywhere," and vowing, "I have not yet begun to fight," amid a federal investigation into sex trafficking allegations.

What he's saying: “I’m built for the battle, and I’m not going anywhere,” Gaetz, who denies the allegations, said during a Women for America First event at the Trump National Doral Miami resort.

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