OAKLAND — A day after Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ forced resignation, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, expressed uncertainty Thursday about the effect on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s potential interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
King made an appearance Thursday morning in Oakland for Messalonskee Middle School’s annual Veterans Day assembly.
“We’ll see what happens over the next few days, but it is a concern because (Preisdent Donald Trump) obviously was unhappy with Jeff Sessions because of his recusal, but Jeff Sessions did what the law required him to do,” King said in an interview at the school. “The fact that (Trump) passed over Rod Rosenstein to appoint someone else who’s been critical certainly raises concerns. I’m hoping Congress can act.”
King, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, pointed to the passage of a bill supporting Mueller’s investigation as the most important action in the wake of the Sessions dismissal, but didn’t offer any more specifics about what should be done. The bill has been reported out by the Senate Judiciary Committee and King has previously voiced his backing of the bill on Twitter.
“All leader McConnell has to do is bring it to the floor for a vote and I think we can lay all this anxiety to rest,” King said Thursday.
King noted that “regardless of what happens,” the congressional group will continue its own probe into the allegations of Russian interference.
“We’re a co-equal branch in the government, and we have a responsibility to understand what happened in 2016 and to prevent it from ever happening again,” King said. “We’re going to continue to do that.”
Instead of appointing Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to fill Sessions’ position in an acting capacity, Trump picked Matthew Whitaker. Whitaker was Sessions’ chief of staff and outwardly criticized Mueller’s investigation.
On Wednesday, the president tweeted that “a permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date.”
Rosenstein no longer will oversee the special counsel investigation.
Rosenstein was at the center of a recent controversy after it was reported that in the spring of 2017 he raised the idea of Cabinet members invoking the 25th amendment to remove the president and suggested that he should secretly record Trump.
King did not indicate whether he thinks Whitaker will attempt to stop funding the probe.
“I don’t know anything about (Whitaker). I just know what I’ve read and that he was critical in the past of the special counsel’s investigations, which obviously raises concerns,” King said.
U.S. Sen. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, also voiced concern about the move, tweeting Wednesday that “Special Counsel Mueller must be allowed to complete his work without interference — regardless of who is AG.”
As far as Maine politics are concerned, King declined to comment on Democrats gaining control of the state’s governorship and Legislature, noting he was busy focusing on his own campaign.
King was re-elected Tuesday with 54 percent of the vote, with 92 percent of precincts reporting.
U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, speaks to reporters Thursday after a Veterans Day assembly at Messalonskee High School in Oakland. (Morning Sentinel photo)