Saturday, 23 February, 2019

‘Trump loyalist’ overseeing Russian Federation probe quizzed over ‘interference’

Matthew Whitaker Modal Trigger Matthew Whitaker AP
Andrew Cummings | 09 February, 2019, 03:57

"In light of that commitment, Acting Attorney General Whitaker looks forward to voluntarily appearing at tomorrow's hearing and discussing the great work of the Department of Justice", said spokeswoman Kerri Kupec.

Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker snapped back on Friday at newly emboldened Democrats in Congress who are pushing for information on the special counsel's Russian Federation probe as they try to put President Donald Trump's administration under greater scrutiny.

In an exchange that shocked the room, Whitaker told Nadler that his five-minute time limit was up - an extremely rare comment for any witness, even the acting attorney general, to make to the chairman of a committee. Since the leadership of the House changed hands in December, he has emerged as one of the Trump administration's most powerful foes on Capitol Hill.

In a statement, Whitaker said he would be willing to testify with the assurance that the committee wouldn't issue a subpoena and would "engage in good faith negotiations before taking such a step down the road".

"I am not kidding when I say I have interviewed terrorists who were more cooperative & respectful than Matt Whitaker was today... the attorney general role is America's lawyer, we are his client... he treated us with utter disdain".

"I have not talked to the president of the United States about the special counsel investigation", Mr Whitaker told the House Judiciary Committee. Nadler ultimately backed down on the subpoena threat for the time being.

The hearing was the first, and likely only, chance for newly empowered Democrats in the majority to grill an attorney general they perceive as a Trump loyalist and whose appointment they suspect was aimed at suppressing investigations of the Republican president.

Swalwell, who primarily questioned Whitaker with regard to the Mueller investigation, began by asking whether the acting AG felt as though Mueller were an honest man. "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".

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House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep.

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

"I want to be very specific about this, Mr. Chairman, because I think it's going to allay a lot of fears that have existed among this committee, among the legislative branch largely and maybe amongst some American people", Whitaker added.

The testimony comes as Whitaker is likely winding down his tenure leading the Justice Department with the nearly certain confirmation of Attorney General nominee William Barr in the coming weeks.

Congressman Doug Collins, the top Republican on the committee, accused Democrats of staging political drama.

A senior Justice Department official told CNN that the bottom line is that the Department is not aware of any precedent for the authorization of a subpoena before questioning.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has also announced a sweeping investigation into Mr Trump's actions as president, and has hired former White House staff members to aid in the probe.

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. Whitaker was an outspoken critic of the investigation before arriving at the Justice Department in 2017.

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