Special counsel Mueller probe "close to being completed," acting attorney general says

By Stefan Becket

/ CBS News

Acting AG says Mueller probe "close to being completed"

Washington — Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is "close to being completed," Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said Monday. Speaking at his first press conference since taking over the Justice Department in November 2018, Whitaker also said he has been "fully briefed" on Mueller's probe.

"Right now, you know, the investigation is I think close to being completed. And I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as possible," Whitaker said.

A spokesman for the special counsel's office declined to comment on Whitaker's remarks.

Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign and any possible links to the Trump campaign began in May 2017, shortly after President Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey. His investigators have handed down indictments against multiple Trump associates, most recently Roger Stone, who was indicted Friday on charges he lied to Congress and tampered with a witness.

Whitaker oversees the Mueller probe as head of the Department of Justice. His predecessor Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation in March 2017 over questions regarding his own contacts with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 campaign.

When Whitaker became acting attorney general, he faced immense pressure from Democratic lawmakers to likewise recuse himself from involvement in Mueller's work due to comments he made about the probe as a private citizen in 2017. In opinion pieces and interviews, Whitaker had argued the probe should be limited in scope, at one point arguing its budget should be cut "so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt."

On Monday, Whitaker appeared to back away from those critiques.

"The statements that I've made were as a private citizen, only with publicly available information," Whitaker said. "And, you know, I'm comfortable that the decisions that were made are going to be reviewed, you know, through the various means we have."

President Trump has nominated William Barr as Whitaker's permanent replacement. Barr served as attorney general during the first Bush administration and had his Senate confirmation hearings earlier his month, where he said it was "vitally important" for Mueller's work to reach its conclusion.

Paula Reid and Andy Triay contributed reporting.

First published on January 29, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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