Acting attorney general won't discuss communications with Trump at hearing

08 February, 2019, 17:26 | Author: Carlos George
  • Lauren Victoria Burke  FR132934 AP

Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is ready and "eager" to testify before the Democrat-controlled House Judiciary Committee on Friday, but the committee's chairman, Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), has threatened to subpoena Whitaker anyway, "out of an abundance of caution", Fox News reported Wednesday.

Democrats have a list of questions to fire at him - which they provided him last month - including whether he was in the loop before Mr. Trump ousted former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, why Mr. Whitaker didn't recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel Russian Federation probe, and what Mr. Whitaker's interactions have been with the president since taking office.

Late Thursday night, Nadler agreed to drop the threat, paving the way for Whitaker's appearance before the panel. Watch the hearing live at 9:30 a.m., Friday.

"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", Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement.

The vote doesn't issue a subpoena to Whitaker but allows House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler to do so if Whitaker is uncooperative. Nadler said that is "ridiculous" and administration officials must provide the committee with answers or a better excuse to withhold them.

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If he doesn't, Nadler plans on subpoenaing Whitaker during questioning to force him to answer. "A voluntary witness (as Whitaker was) can refuse to answer questions, but a witness appearing pursuant to a subpoena is required to testify". "With respect to the Special Counsel investigation, the Department has complied with the Special Counsel regulations, and the Acting Attorney General will make clear that there has been no change in how the Department has worked with the Special Counsel's office".

Nadler is seeking answers about "confidential presidential communications no Attorney General could ever be expected to disclose under the circumstances", Whitaker wrote in his letter Thursday. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that rules on questions of executive privilege has historically tended to side with investigators over the president. He said the committee had received reports that some at the department were counseling Whitaker not to appear.

Republicans slammed Nadler for pre-emptively planning a subpoena for a witness who had voluntarily agreed to testify, saying it was setting a troubling precedent.

"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.

Whitaker has been undertaking significant preparations ahead of the hearing, including conducting briefings with every DOJ component and participating in several mock hearings, according to the officials.

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