AUBURN — As protesters gathered outside his district offices in central New York, U.S. Rep. John Katko reiterated his support of the Russia investigation and dismissed "speculation" that the ouster of Jeff Sessions as attorney general will affect the probe.
Katko's comments came during an interview with The Citizen Thursday and one day after Sessions was fired. President Donald Trump named Matthew Whitaker acting attorney general.
With Whitaker's appointment, he is now in charge of overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's 2016 election meddling and whether there was any coordination with the Trump campaign. When Sessions was attorney general, he recused himself from supervising the Mueller probe. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was tasked with overseeing the investigation.
Reports indicate that Whitaker, who has criticized the Mueller investigation in the past and suggested ways to undermine the inquiry, won't recuse himself from that oversight role.
In the aftermath of Sessions' firing, Katko doesn't think it will have an impact on the special counsel's work.
"Unless and until Mueller himself signals that somehow his investigation is being impeded, I think a lot of it is rank speculation," he said. "How many times have people said in the past that expressed concern about the Mueller investigation? And he just keeps his head down and plows on like I know he will do."
But some of Katko's constituents are concerned that the development, which came one day after Democrats won control of the House of Representatives, could threaten the Mueller investigation.
More than 50 people rallied outside Katko's Auburn office. Some held signs that read, "Nobody is above the law" and "Protect Mueller."
Jim Brady, of Owasco, called for action. Congress, he continued, should put the country before their political parties and hold Trump accountable.
"No one is above the law, not even the president," he said. Another speaker, Debra Rose Brillati, urged Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation.
Attendees also had a message for Katko: Support legislation to protect the special counsel's investigation.
Katko, who won re-election Tuesday, supports the Mueller investigation. He has praised Mueller, a former FBI director, and did so again Thursday.
"He has a dogged determination," Katko, a former federal prosecutor, said of the special counsel.
There have been bills introduced to shield Mueller's investigation. Politico reported Thursday that U.S. Sens. Chris Coons, a Democrat, and Jeff Flake, a Republican, will push for a vote on a bill to protect the special counsel's inquiry.
Katko hasn't signed on to any bills in the House, but reiterated that he will support such a measure — if it's needed.
"If and when it becomes an issue, if it ever does, I will absolutely speak up and be the first to sign on to relevant legislation to push it," he said.