November 16, 2018 / 5:32 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-U.S. Senate Judiciary chair Grassley's move to leave key opening

(Adds background, details on panels)

WASHINGTON, Nov 16 (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley on Friday said he planned to relinquish the position next year, leaving a vacancy at the top of the panel, which is among those investigating alleged Russian political interference.

In a statement, the Iowa Republican said he would instead seek to return as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which he had previously run.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, an initial Trump skeptic who has turned into one of his fiercest supporters, has publicly stated that he would aim to take over the chairmanship of the Judiciary panel if there was a vacancy.

The move could have significant implications regarding the federal probe into Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Judiciary panel, along with several others in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, had been probing the allegations. The U.S. Special Counsel’s Office is also investigating.

On Thursday, Graham met with acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who now oversees the special counsel’s probe in the U.S. Department of Justice, and said Whitaker had said he was comfortable with the ongoing investigation.

As head of the Finance panel, Grassley said he would focus on additional tax relief and tax fairness, U.S. exports and improving health care.

Senate Republicans, who control the chamber, will finalize the posts when the next Congress convenes in January. (Reporting by Susan Heavey and Richard Cowan; Writing by Makini Brice Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)

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