Whitaker, After Clash With U.S. House Panel, Agrees to Appear

Lauren Victoria Burke  FR132934 AP

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker will tell lawmakers that there has been no change in the "overall management" of the special counsel's Russian Federation investigation.

Just days before he will leave the job, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker spent hours Friday answering - and not answering - a flurry of questions from members of the House Judiciary Committee.

Whitaker had publicly criticized the investigation before joining the Justice Department in 2017 but said on Friday he had not discussed it with Trump.

Nadler called the hearing to provide oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice, which Whitaker has overseen since former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was sacked in November. "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". More particularly, Democrats were prepared to home in on the independence of the Justice Department and special counsel Robert Mueller from White House interference and improper political considerations.

"If he feels that a yes or a no is appropriate, he'll answer in a yes or a no; if he does not feel it's appropriate, he should be able to answer in the appropriate way, as many other Democrats have done before this committee before", Collins said. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., about the conditions under which he would testify.

As Whitaker noted several times during his almost six hour long hearing, he doesn't have much time left in his role. Whitaker responded. "Congresswoman, as I've mentioned several times, I am not talking about the conversations that I've had with the president or the rest of his senior staff". And I took notes on what we learned (or re-learned) from what Whitaker said (and didn't).

Whitaker's highly anticipated testimony had been in limbo after the Democratic-led committee approved a tentative subpoena to ensure that he appeared and answered questions.

"The member only has five minutes, and if she wants a yes or no answer, she's entitled to it", Nadler said to Republicans on the committee who had voiced objections.

"Can you say right now, "Mr. President, Bob Mueller is honest and not conflicted"?" asked Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.

Whitaker said then he might not attend, prompting Nadler to backtrack.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., tried to adjourn the hearing before it started, saying it was an attempt at character assassination of Trump.

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.

"In your capacity as acting attorney general, have you ever been asked to approve any request or action to be taken by the special counsel?" asked Nadler. "Have you communicated any information in that briefing to President Trump?"

Whitaker laid the groundwork for a likely tussle with Democrats by saying in his opening statement that while he would address their questions, he would not reveal details of his communications with Trump.

"He will come back, because we will use a subpoena if we have to", he said.

Nadler told CNN Democrats will not be intimidated by Trump.

"Any questions unanswered today [that] require consultation with the White House, will be asked again ... and I expect either a clean answer or a proper assertion of privilege claimed by the president", Nadler said.

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