Former FBI Agent Maps Out The Future Of The Justice Department
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Step down from the ledge. That's what Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent and lawyer, tweeted after Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced to resign last week. It's caused concern and speculation about what that might mean for Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Asha Rangappa joins us on the line now. Good morning.
ASHA RANGAPPA: Good morning. How are you?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm very well. You counseled calm immediately after the resignation of Mr. Sessions. Why?
RANGAPPA: Well, having read the special counsel regulations pretty carefully and knowing also the culture within the Department of Justice, I just think that there are enough guardrails in place that would make it quite difficult - not necessarily impossible but very difficult and a very high risk for Matthew Whitaker to try to derail Mueller's investigation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're talking about Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker. Let's talk about him. He's been pretty vocal about his criticism of the Mueller investigation. Is there any process that might move him to recuse?
RANGAPPA: There's definitely a process in place. The question is whether he is going to avail himself of it. So within the Department of Justice, there are people who, you know, they review ethical conflicts. They have internal guidelines. And they will issue, basically, an advisory recommendation on what someone should do. It's not required. So even at that point, he doesn't necessarily have to recuse. But I think for - typically, most people do. And I mean, this is what former Attorney General Jeff Sessions did.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are you - I mean, there's been a lot of concerns raised about Matt Whitaker. Are you among those who think that this is the wrong appointment?
RANGAPPA: Well, I think it depends on what aspect you're looking at. As I mentioned before, I think that in terms of supervising the Mueller investigation, I feel like there are enough safeguards in place. I think that there are some very valid objections that have been made on constitutional grounds in terms of whether being able to appoint him is even constitutionally permissible. And that's a separate legal question from what's happening internally in the Department of Justice.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. What kind of checks and balances are in place now that the Democrats will have a majority in the House come January in terms of the Mueller investigation and oversight?
RANGAPPA: Right. So, you know, within the special counsel regulations, what the supervisor, the attorney general or the acting attorney general who oversees Mueller has is not day-to-day supervision. But he has the authority to approve or disapprove of investigatory and prosecutorial steps that Mueller might request. That is not without a certain set of criteria. So Whitaker would have - would only be able to deny a request from Mueller if - and this is the standard - the request was so inappropriate and unwarranted under departmental policies that it should not be pursued. And he is required to give great weight to Mueller's recommendation in doing that. So he would have to put his name to a document saying, this is why I think this is inappropriate and unwarranted.
What happens is that whenever he denies a request, at the end of the investigation - at the end of the - Mueller's investigation, the attorney general or acting attorney general has to report to both the House and Senate judiciary committees, the chairs and the ranking members, of all of the decisions that he denied and why. And so that is there to - precisely to shed some light on these kinds of things and not allow an investigation to be quashed behind the scenes. And now that the House has - now that the Democrats have the House, they would have the ability to not only make those - you know, that public, but they would be able to bring this person in and ask them questions and challenge them under oath on why they made these decisions.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And just briefly, I mean, we have a few seconds left. What do you think's going to happen next? I mean, there's been a lot of speculation that we will be expecting a report pretty soon.
RANGAPPA: Yes. I think reports are that Mueller is in the final stages of writing a report. And that makes sense to me - definitely on the obstruction of justice front. I feel like we might see more indictments on the collusion and Russia front. But once again, that report goes to the attorney general or acting attorney general. And the person in that position doesn't have to make it public.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So we don't really know what's going to happen next. That's Asha Rangappa.
RANGAPPA: Exactly (laughter).
GARCIA-NAVARRO: She is a former FBI special agent. Thank you so much.
RANGAPPA: You're welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.