The hearings begin: Acting AG Whitaker clashes with House Judiciary Democrats

Matthew Whitaker

Matthew Whitaker

It was the culmination of a day that began when the House panel voted to authorize a subpoena of Whitaker because its Democratic members want to ask him about his conversations with President Donald Trump and his oversight of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

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

In a letter to Nadler on Thursday afternoon, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote that Whitaker is prepared to testify that "at no time did the White House ask for, or did the acting attorney general provide, any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel's investigation". "And I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel's investigation".

As Whitaker noted several times during his almost six hour long hearing, he doesn't have much time left in his role.

Whitaker then replied, "Mr. Chairman, as I've said earlier today in my opening remarks, I do not intend today to talk about my private conversations with the president of the United States".

"Without the threat of a subpoena, I believe it may be hard to hold Mr. Whitaker to this standard", Nadler said earlier Thursday.

"It is our understanding that at least one briefing occurred between your decision not to recuse yourself on December 19 and six days later, Christmas Day", Nadler said. Whitaker said he had no knowledge of leaks to media outlets and that "It was deeply concerning to me how CNN found out".

Republican Doug Collins assailed the goal for the hearing and unsuccessfully called for it to be adjourned.

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"This subpoena is nothing short of political theater, choreographed by the chairman and starring the acting attorney general as some mythological protector of secrets", said Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the panel.

In a comment that drew audible gasps and chuckles, Mr Whitaker interrupted questioning from the committee's Democratic chairman, Rep Jerrold Nadler, by saying, "Mr Chairman, I see that your five minutes are up". The Senate judiciary committee voted along party lines Thursday to advance Barr's nomination.

Mariotti then explained that if Mueller or the Southern District of NY want to know what Trump has told Whitaker, those conversations aren't going to be privileged.

Nadler had pushed for Whitaker - whom Trump appointed in November after his predecessor Jeff Sessions was forced out - to testify before the confirmation of his likely replacement, William Barr.

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. But it does mean that a congressional witness's claim of executive privilege is hardly "game over" when it comes to having to answer touchy questions.

Nadler accused Whitaker of stalling but got pushback from the Republican Collins, who said Jackson Lee's demand of "yes or no" was inappropriate.

The stalemate ended Thursday evening after the committee chairman said the committee wouldn't issue a subpoena if Whitaker came voluntarily.

He talks to Anna Maria Tremonti about his time working on Trump's campaign, and having the president's ear. Deliberations between the president and his advisors should be kept confidential because otherwise people won't give him the blunt advice he might need.

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