Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker sparked gasps and stunned laughter during a contentious hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.
In a testy exchange with Chairman Jerrold Nadler on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, Whitaker refused to answer some questions and literally called time on the New York Democrat, shocking those in attendance.
The drama leading up to Friday’s hearing set the stage with Nadler threatening to subpoena Whitaker while the Department of Justice threatened to boycott the hearing completely. Whitaker had agreed to appear voluntarily before the panel but Nadler was cleared to issue a subpoena if needed, Fox News reported.
With the focus on Whitaker’s oversight of Mueller’s investigation, Nadler questioned the acting attorney general, who has been temporarily placed in the position while awaiting confirmation of William Barr, President Trump’s nominee for attorney general. Democrats have slammed Whitaker for not recusing himself from the investigation which he has openly criticized.
“In your capacity as acting attorney general, have you ever approved any request or action to be taken by the special counsel?” Nadler asked after indicating he wanted a private deposition with Whitaker who refused to answer many of his convoluted questions.
“Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up, so…” Whitaker replied, to the astonishment of those in the hearing room. “I am here voluntarily. We have agreed to five-minute rounds.”
Whitaker was roundly applauded by conservatives for his ‘savage’ response:
Finally – an AG that doesn’t act like a scared mouse.
— antipinko (@antipinko) February 8, 2019
Even Nadler seemed to find some humor in the response as he smiled slightly before saying the five-minute rule was not “enforced” on Whitaker. He then dismissed a suggestion to use that as a good “breaking point” for the examination, repeating his question.
“I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation,” the acting attorney general responded.
Earlier, Whitaker had contended that there were no “promises or commitments” made in the Mueller probe or any other investigation, asserting that there had been “no change in the overall management of the special counsel investigation.”
Whitaker shot down any attempt to ask about “private conversations” he had in response to Nadler’s question on whether he had spoke to Trump or others in the White House about the ongoing investigation.
“I do not intend today to talk about my private conversations, but to answer your question, I did not talk to the president about the status of the investigation,” he said. “Consistent with what I’ve already said. I have not talked about the special counsel’s investigation with any White House officials.”
Nadler called for “clean answers or proper assertion of privilege claimed by the president” in a future “deposition before the committee, under oath” by Whitaker after he avoided giving responses to some questions.
“I’ve given you a fair opportunity so that we could avoid this fight in the first place, but you don’t appear to have done any of that,” Nadler said. “I do not believe issuing a subpoena here would correct the problem.”
In fact, the threat of a subpoena almost derailed the appearance of the acting attorney general before Friday’s hearing.
“Consistent with longstanding practice, I remain willing to appear to testify tomorrow, provided that the Chairman assures me that the Committee will not issue a subpoena today or tomorrow and that the Committee will engage in good faith negotiations before taking such a step down the road,” Whitaker wrote in a letter to Nadler.
The top Republican on the committee demanded Friday’s meeting be adjourned in his opening statement, Fox News reported.
“This hearing is a character assassination on Acting Attorney General Whitaker, all pure political theater, to go after the president,” Ranking Member Doug Collins of Georgia said.
Watch the longer video of Nadler questioning Whitaker below, via Fox News:
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