Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, joined other Senate Judiciary Committee members in calling on the Department of Justice inspector general to perform a complete review of its ethics processes and procedures following revelations of disregard for vital ethics rules by Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.
Department ethics review is about to be tested again as attorney general nominee William Barr comes before the Senate, the senators added.
In addition to Coons, the request is joined by Judiciary Ranking Member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island; Patrick Leahy, D-Rhode Island; Dick Durbin, D-Illinois; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota; Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut; Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii; Cory Booker, D-New Jersey; and Kamala Harris, D-California.
In December 2018, it was revealed that Whitaker ignored a Justice Department ethics official’s determination that he ought to recuse himself from oversight of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Whitaker has a lengthy record of statements questioning the legitimacy and legality of Mueller’s work. He was also paid more than a million dollars by an organization that filed at least 14 complaints in recent years against Democratic politicians and has spent thousands of dollars on contracts with conservative political attack groups, raising questions about potential conflicts of interest.
“Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker’s decision to disregard the advice of career DOJ ethics officials to recuse himself from oversight of Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicates that DOJ’s internal ethics procedures have failed,” the senators wrote. “Not only does this raise serious concerns about Mr. Whitaker’s current actions as acting attorney general, but it also calls into question DOJ’s ethics procedures to assess and address potential conflicts of William P. Barr, President Trump’s nominee to be attorney general.”
Now, the Senate Judiciary Committee is poised to consider the nomination of Barr, whose record raises serious questions about whether he could oversee the Mueller investigation impartially. Unprompted, Barr submitted a memo to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that attacked Mueller’s investigation of possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump, calling the special counsel’s inquiry “fatally misconceived.”
“Mr. Barr’s record, including statements and opinions that he has expressed regarding Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, will be explored by Congress in the course of his confirmation, and will also warrant consideration by the Department’s career ethics officials if he is confirmed,” the senators continue. “This heightens the need to ensure that process and procedures by which DOJ assesses conflicts of interest of senior political appointees is adequate and that adherence to DOJ standards and guidance is appropriately monitored and enforced.”
Barr’s confirmation is set to begin Jan. 15 in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Full text of the senators’ letter is available at bit.ly/2M9D2o0.