Acting AG Matthew Whitaker gives first testimony before Congress

Arturo Kim
February 9, 2019

He also said he had never discussed with the White House special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into potential coordination between Russian Federation and Donald Trump's campaign.

Whitaker's prepared testimony covered a range of Justice Department accomplishments, along with his intent not to discuss issues covered by executive privilege.

When asked why he didn't recuse himself from the investigation, Whitaker said a senior Department of Justice official told him it was a "close call", but ultimately the decision was his to make.

"I have not talked to the president of the United States about the special counsel investigation", Mr Whitaker told the House Judiciary Committee.

So far, the hearing has not shed much light on the status of the Mueller investigation - and it may not.

In his opening statement, he tore into Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) for the way the hearing was arranged and why.

Republicans derided the hearing as political theater especially since Whitaker may well be in his final week on the job.

"Mr. Chairman I see that your five minutes is up", said Whitaker.

Whitaker's testimony Friday was in limbo after the House Judiciary Committee approved a tentative subpoena to ensure he appeared. Nadler reminded Whitaker that the committee had submitted questions relating to the special counsel investigation and was waiting on answers.

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Republicans proposed an amendment, offered by Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, to add Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein - a familiar target of the GOP given his past oversight of the Mueller probe - to Nadler's subpoena, which was rejected by Democrats. They said it was not necessary because Whitaker was already appearing voluntarily.

"I have been on the record about my respect for Bob Mueller", Whitaker said.

"A subpoena should only follow a breakdown of the accommodation process and as a last resort against persons seeking to frustrate legitimate oversight on this committee", said Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the committee's top Republican. After refusing to answer in a yes or no fashion and questioned whether she had the authority to continue asking questions because her time had expired, Jackson Lee rebuked the acting attorney general.

Whitaker testified that he had not spoken with Trump about Mueller and denied interfering with the investigation. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines Thursday to approve Barr's nomination, sending the pick to the full Senate.

House Democrats allege in a letter sent Friday morning that Whitaker failed to return thousands of dollars that should have been distributed to the victims of a scam by World Patent Marketing.

Cohen blasted Whitaker for the DOJ's involvement in helping represent Trump in those matters, saying the president is "making personal monies" off the lease of a government building. Nadler said he hoped not to have to use the subpoena, but "a series of troubling events over the past few months suggest that we should be prepared". "The rules are that you are here, and I need to ask the question and I need to have my time restored so that you can behave appropriately".

He talks to Anna Maria Tremonti about his time working on Trump's campaign, and having the president's ear.

Whitaker, in his opening remarks, said he hasn't given the White House any assurances about Mueller's probe, and the White House has not asked him to do so.

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