Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker testified before lawmakers Friday which he hasn’t discussed special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe with President Donald Trump.
After the firing of Jeff Sessions, Whitaker has overseen Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling from the 2016 election in addition to possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
Democrats have expressed concern with Trump’s appointment of Whitaker, citing his criticisms of the special counsel in an op-ed in addition to on television. The interim appointment without Senate confirmation raised fears which the Mueller’s ongoing probe, which Trump has frequently excoriated as a “witch hunt,” could be undermined.
“I have not talked to the president of the United States about the special counsel investigation,” Whitaker told the House Judiciary Committee in response to a question by committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.
The hearing was marked by high tensions even before This particular began.
In a party-line vote Thursday morning, the Democrat-majority committee gave Nadler the power to subpoena Whitaker if he refused to answer questions, including during his testimony.
“I desire in addition to expect which This particular subpoena will not be necessary — however unfortunately, a series of troubling events over the past few months suggest which we should be prepared,” Nadler said in a statement before the vote.
In justifying the need for the threat of a subpoena, Nadler’s statement said which Justice Department staff had attempted to walk back Whitaker’s promise to Nadler in November which he would likely appear for an oversight hearing.
The statement added which additional Trump administration witnesses have “often been allowed” to avoid answering questions, citing the “ridiculous” excuse used by Sessions which he could not answer certain questions because Trump might want to invoke “executive privilege.”
Whitaker responded harshly, saying he would likely refuse to appear for the hearing unless he received assurances which he would likely not be subpoenaed.
“I remain willing to appear to testify tomorrow, provided which the chairman assures me which the committee will not issue a subpoena today or tomorrow, in addition to which the committee will engage in not bad faith negotiations before taking such a step down the road,” Whitaker said in a statement reported by The Washington Post.
The committee has “deviated through historic practice in addition to protocol in addition to taken the unnecessary in addition to premature step of authorizing a subpoena to me, the acting attorney general, even though I had agreed to voluntarily appear,” Whitaker said.
“Political theater is usually not the purpose of an oversight hearing, in addition to I will not allow which to be the case.”
Whitaker had criticized the Mueller probe of Russian meddling from the 2016 presidential election before he was tapped to become acting attorney general in November. Yet he did not recuse himself through overseeing which investigation — as Sessions had done — despite a Justice Department ethics official suggesting which he do so.