“Much of the focus on President Trump’s appointment of Whitaker to temporarily replace former Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been on the possibility of Whitaker removing Mueller, a move that would undoubtedly spark public outrage and trigger full-scale investigations by Democrats, who are poised to take control of the House in January.
But federal regulations offer Whitaker, now acting attorney general, broad authority with respect to the special counsel that extends beyond the ability to remove Mueller, giving him the ability to curtail the probe in ways that would not necessarily become public knowledge until after the Russia investigation is over.
Whitaker has the power to weigh in on any major steps in the probe, such as the issuance of new subpoenas and indictments.
Should he remain at the helm of the Justice Department until the conclusion of the investigation, it will be up to Whitaker to decide which portions, if any, of Mueller’s final report are submitted to Congress or released to the public.
“He has a lot of authority, starting with his authority to remove Mueller if he finds he has good cause for doing so under the relevant regulation,” said Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor. “There are both hard and soft powers that the relevant regulation gives to the acting attorney general.”
Whitaker has assumed oversight of the probe from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at a critical point in the investigation, as the special counsel reviews Trump’s written answers to questions about potential collusion between his campaign and Moscow in 2016 and mulls further steps in his scrutiny of longtime Trump ally Roger Stone.
There are no outward signs of Whitaker limiting the probe. In a court filing Monday, Mueller’s team signaled that their authorities remain intact following the leadership shuffle at the Justice Department. Sessions submitted his resignation at Trump’s request on Nov. 7, and Whitaker was named acting attorney general that same day.” (Read more: The Hill, 11/23/2018)