Acting US attorney general snaps at Democrats over Russia probe

10 February, 2019, 10:38 | Author: Wade Massey
  • Matthew Whitaker says he won’t testify unless subpoena threat is lifted

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, appointed after Jeff Sessions resigned past year, was grilled by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee on Friday about whether his appointment was made to protect Trump from Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation.

"Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes are up, " Whitaker said to the committee's Democratic leader, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of NY.

"I am here voluntarily, we have agreed to five-minute rounds", Whitaker said. And I took notes on what we learned (or re-learned) from what Whitaker said (and didn't).

The retort came after Nadler had chastised Whitaker for evading questions and said that he wanted Whitaker to appear before the committee "in the coming weeks" for a private deposition. There has been no event, no decision that's required me to take any action, and I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel's investigation'.

"Mr. Attorney General, we're not joking here and your humor is not acceptable", Jackson Lee told Whitaker.

The hearing took place as Trump's nomination of former Attorney General William Barr is making its way through the Senate.

The tone of the hearing had been teased on Thursday when Nadler threatened to subpoena Whitaker, while the DOJ threatened to boycott the hearing.

Whitaker infuriated Democrats by not giving "yes" or "no" answers, referring them to other departments such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and at times challenging their questions.

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Democrats who perceive Whitaker as a Trump loyalist are also expected to ask about Whitaker's comment last week that he believed the investigation into potential ties between Russian Federation and the Trump campaign was almost done.

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

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) denounced the "theatrics" of the proceedings and said they were "nothing more than a character assassination".

As acting attorney general, he refused to recuse himself from supervising Mueller's probe despite the advice of a career Justice Department ethics official who was concerned his past comments created the appearance of a conflict of interest, department officials said.

Whitaker on learning of Roger Stone indictment before it became public: "I have, again, been briefed on the special counsel's investigation".

Asked whether he has spoken with President Trump about the Southern District of New York's investigation into his former lawyer Michael Cohen, Whitaker wouldn't say.

After Sessions recused himself from the federal investigation, its supervision fell to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. "I gotta tell you, I say that with sadness, because the attorney general role is America's lawyer". Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) opened his time by questioning how Whitaker even ended up in his position. Whitaker was an outspoken critic of the investigation before arriving at the Justice Department in 2017. "Have you communicated any information in that briefing to President Trump?"

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