Whitaker appointment brings praise and protest in Iowa

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) -- Following Attorney General Jeff Sessions' resignation, requested by the president earlier this week, there has been a lot of concern from the left about his replacement, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.

A group of about 100 in front of the Old Capitol in Iowa City chanted "hands off Mueller" and called for protection of the investigation of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. (Forrest Saunders/KCRG)

He's been described as a Trump loyalist and a possible threat to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe.

In response, protests took place across the nation and in Iowa, Thursday night.

A group of about 100 in front of the Old Capitol in Iowa City chanted "hands off Mueller" and called for protection of the investigation of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Whitaker, a former US attorney from Iowa and a Hawkeye, has been an outspoken critic of the probe. Protestors worried Whitaker would use his new position to stifle the investigation before its conclusion.

"If Mueller wants to do any more subpoenas, if he wants to bring in Don Jr. to talk about the meeting at Trump Tower, he has to go through Whitaker to make that happen," said Scot Northern, who attended the protest in Iowa City. "Whitaker can just say no."

Whitaker, speaking on CNN in 2017, said he had respect for Mueller and then went on to say he would be surprised if the special counsel had any concerns about the termination of Sessions and its effect on the investigation. Whitaker felt Mueller would focus on his job, regardless. But, in another interview that year, Whitaker also said he felt there was a red line for the probe.

"There is a very specific scope to this investigation," Whitaker said. "Anything that is outside of Russian coordination or the 2016 campaign would be outside of the scope of that investigation."

There have been plenty of Democrats who have called for Whitaker to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, as Sessions did. The woman likely set to be the next House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, being was one of them, tweeting; "Given his record of threats to undermine & weaken the Russia investigation, Matthew Whitaker should recuse himself..."

Whitaker has his supporters too, including a U.S. senator from Iowa, Joni Ernst.

In a statement Thursday, the Republican said Whitaker is a "steady hand that will provide good leadership and judgment, and will ensure that the United States Department of Justice upholds the highest standards of the rule of law."