WASHINGTON -- The future of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign was thrown into uncertainty Wednesday after President Donald Trump ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a move that will result in a change in the probe's supervision.
Trump named as acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker, Session's chief of staff, who as a legal commentator last year wrote that special counsel Robert Mueller appeared to be taking his investigation too far.
A Justice Department official said Wednesday that Whitaker would assume final decision-making authority over the special counsel probe instead of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Since last year, Rosenstein has overseen the investigation because Sessions, a key Trump surrogate in 2016, recused himself from dealing with matters involving the campaign. It wasn't immediately clear what role, if any, Rosenstein may play in the probe going forward.
Trump's decision to push Sessions out Wednesday conflicted with comments he offered during a news conference Wednesday when he insisted that he had a right to end the investigation but said he would prefer to "let it go on."
"I could fire everybody right now, but I don't want to stop it because politically I don't like stopping it," Trump said. "It's a disgrace. It should never have been started, because there is no crime."
With the midterm elections now over, Mueller faces key decision points in his 18-month-old investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign -- a probe that has already led to charges against 32 people, including 26 Russians. Four aides to Trump have pleaded guilty to various charges, most recently his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort in September.
Among the most pressing matters now before the special counsel: a probe into longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone's activities and ongoing negotiations with Trump's legal team over a request to interview him.
For months, Mueller has been seeking to question Trump as part of his investigation, which is also examining whether the president has sought to obstruct the probe.
Mueller's prosecutors have already laid out detailed allegations of how Russia sought to manipulate Americans through social media, break into state voting systems and hack the email accounts of Democratic committees and party leaders.
But the special counsel's team has not indicated publicly that it has drawn any conclusions about whether Trump associates conspired with the Russians or whether the president obstructed justice.
At some point, the special counsel is expected to issue a confidential report to Rosenstein containing his conclusions about both matters.
Those findings -- which could be shared with Congress -- are eagerly awaited by Democrats, who on Tuesday regained control of the House. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said that Mueller's conclusions will affect whether the party pursues impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Meanwhile, the special counsel must decide whether to accept only written answers from the president or to fight for an interview. Such a move would likely require issuing a subpoena to the president, which would then draw a legal challenge from Trump's team.
By mid-November, the president's attorneys plan to turn over Trump's written answers to roughly a dozen questions the special counsel has posed -- including the president's knowledge of the hacked Democratic emails and his advisers' contacts with Russians during the campaign and transition, according to two people familiar with the decision.
Trump's legal team has repeatedly resisted Mueller's request for a sit-down interview with the president since he first proposed it in December 2017. But they have never flatly rejected it.
Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani has said he opposes the idea of the interview, worried that it would to lead to Mueller eventually accusing Trump of perjury.
Information for this article was contributed by Devlin Barrett, Spencer S. Hsu, Manuel Roig-Franzia and Philip Rucker of The Washington Post.
A Section on 11/08/2018
Print Headline: Mueller investigation now under new supervision