President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he would let the Justice Department decide how to handle the special counsel's report on an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and any alleged collusion or obstruction of justice by Trump, his campaign or administration.
Trump's nominee to be attorney general, William Barr, vowed during his confirmation hearings earlier this month to allow Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor, to complete the probe and to make as many of the findings findings public as he is able.
When asked in an interview with the Daily Caller, a conservative website, whether he would make the decision on whether to release the results of the investigation, Trump said, "They'll have to make their decision within the Justice Department."
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who was appointed by the president to temporarily replace Jeff Sessions after the commander-in-chief fired him from his job as the nation's top law enforcement official, said on Monday that Mueller's probe is "close to being completed." Whitaker's comments were the first time a top government official with knowledge of the investigation has publicly said it is in the final stages, although there have been signs that the investigation is nearing its end. Trump told the Daily Caller he has not spoken to Whitaker about whether the investigation is nearing its conclusion.
Whitaker's comments rattled some congressional Democrats, who expressed concern that Trump's administration may try to undercut the investigation.
"I don't have full confidence that acting Attorney General Whitaker intends to respect the independence of the special counsel and simply support and sustain the decisions he's made and simply release the report in full," Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told CNN.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) unveiled legislation on Monday that would require Mueller to summarize his findings in a report to Congress and the public.
Trump has vehemently denied all allegations of collusion with Russia during his 2016 presidential campaign and has repeatedly railed against Mueller's investigation into the matter as a politically-motivated "witch hunt" and a "hoax." He has also accused Mueller's team of "viciously telling witnesses to lie about facts," comparing the probe to the McCarthy period, named for former Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.), who accused hundreds of Americans of being communists or communist sympathizers in the 1950s.
Mueller's office most recently indicted Roger Stone, a longtime associate and informal adviser to Trump, on charges of making false statements, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. He pleaded not guilty.
Stone became the 34th person charged by Mueller. Of those people, Mueller had secured guilty pleas from six Trump associates or advisers, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen and former campaign aide George Papadopoulos.