Whitaker: I Have Not Interfered with Mueller Investigation

FILE – Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker

FILE – Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker

Whitaker on Friday rebuffed a Democratic lawmaker's efforts to get him to publicly tell President Trump that special counsel Robert Mueller is honest and not conflicted.

Whitaker stunned onlookers when he told House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., that his time slot had expired as Nadler asked Whitaker if he'd been "asked to approve any requests or action" for the special counsel. "Mr. Chairman", he said, "I see that your 5 minutes is up". And I took notes on what we learned (or re-learned) from what Whitaker said (and didn't).

Jackson Lee had asked Whitaker whether he ever appeared before an oversight hearing or was confirmed in the Senate, and Nadler demanded he "answer the question as asked".

Nadler went on to repeat his question, and Whitaker ultimately responded: "I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel's investigation". When they did ask questions about the investigation, Republicans asked whether it had strayed from the pursuit of possible crimes to targeting individuals, and whether key Justice Department officials were biased in the investigation.

"In your final week, keep your hands off the Mueller investigation", House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) warned.

Whitaker testified he had never spoken with members of Trump's inner circle about his views on the probe as a private citizen before he joined the Justice Department.

But Whitaker's appointment has always been a test for how Democrats will use their newfound majority to flex their oversight muscles. Whitaker was the former attorney of the southern district of Iowa and former chief of staff for then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The hearing had been teased a day earlier when Nadler threatened to subpoena Whitaker, while the DOJ threatened to boycott the hearing.

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Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who Trump effectively fired in November, had recused from overseeing the Russian Federation investigation.

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the committee's top Republican, criticized the hearing as "pure political theater" and a "dog and pony show". The Justice Department said Whitaker would not testify unless Democrats assured him that they would not issue a subpoena. "We're going to test witness accounts to either confirm what they say or seek whether there's contradiction", Swalwell said.

Whitaker initially accepted the committee's invitation to testify.

It was when Whitaker reminded Rep.

The dispute over Whitaker comes as Democrats leading other House panels also stepped up investigations of Trump and those around him, despite the president's warning in his State of the Union address on Tuesday that the nation's "economic miracle" could be stopped by "ridiculous partisan investigations".

But this week, Nadler and the Department of Justice fought in a series of letters released to the public, as Democrats voted to give Nadler the power to subpoena Whitaker should he not appear or refuse to answer the committee's questions. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein oversaw the investigation until Whitaker was appointed after Sessions's resignation.

Whitaker also insisted the agency is complying with regulations.

On Thursday evening, Nadler resolved the stalemate over the subpoena, telling Whitaker: "To the extent that you believe you are unable to fully respond to any specific question, we are prepared to handle your concerns on a case-by-case basis, both during and after tomorrow's hearing". Collins said Friday the Democrats' move was part of a "character assassination".

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