Thousands pack Times Square in support of Mueller investigation

U.S. Attorney Matthew Whitaker speaks during a news conference Wednesday Dec. 20 2006 in Des Moines Iowa. The federal government has charged 23 illegal aliens taken into custody last week at a raid at a Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Marshalltown I

U.S. Attorney Matthew Whitaker speaks during a news conference Wednesday Dec. 20 2006 in Des Moines Iowa. The federal government has charged 23 illegal aliens taken into custody last week at a raid at a Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Marshalltown I

WASHINGTON-The ouster of Attorney General Jeff Sessions by President Donald Trump on Wednesday drew sharp criticisms from both Democrats and Republicans, who warned the latter against moving to squash a probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 USA presidential election.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer immediately called on Whitaker to recuse himself from the probe as his predecessor had, "given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations" on it.

Answering allegations that the White House had used a clip edited by a notorious right-wing conspiracy theorist, Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said: "We stand by our statement".

In a CNN op-ed past year, Whitaker wrote, "Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russian Federation 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing".

The timing for when a final report would be submitted by the special counsel's office is still unclear, and sources say there is also no clear timeline for when Mueller will wrap his investigation.

The protests come a day after Trump effectively fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a move many see as clearing the way for Trump to go after Mueller.

Whitaker's elevation to become the nation's top law enforcement official followed the ouster Wednesday of Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

The investigation until now has been overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller a year ago and granted him fairly broad authority.

Sessions was the first casualty of a cabinet shakeup that had been expected from Trump following the midterm elections.

A personal connection to a Mueller witness is unlikely to sway Whitaker or the White House when it comes to recusal, as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein supervised the probe despite being a witness himself. Clovis, who later worked in Trump's presidential campaign, has been interviewed as part of Mueller's Russian Federation probe.

Jerry Role, a retired Department of Justice staffer told Al Jazeera that Trump's actions this week threatened the integrity of USA democracy.

He also said the line of succession within the Justice Department does not include the chief of staff and the fact that someone in that position would be made acting attorney general is "very odd". Justice Department officials said his taking over for his boss was, at the very least, "awkward", because chiefs of staff typically leave with the attorney general.

The special counsel's team has been investigating Stone's connection to WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign and whether he had advance knowledge of the group's plans to release hacked material damaging to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

On the heels of this, CNN is reporting Thursday that the special counsel has begun writing the final Russian Federation report.

He bolstered the agenda of Trump's evangelical supporters with new rules letting employers opt out of providing health insurance that covers birth control and paving the way for religious businesses and employees to discriminate based on their closely held beliefs.

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