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Democrats to acting AG Whitaker at Russian Federation hearing: 'We're not joking here'

09 February, 2019, 08:54 | Author: Taylor George
  • Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker

Time seemed to be on acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker's mind Friday when House Democrats trained their new oversight powers on his stewardship of the Trump administration's Justice Department.

"Mr. Chairman, as I 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, but to answer your question - I have not talked to the president of the United States about the special counsel's investigation", Whitaker told the committee.

"I am here voluntarily", he added. "We have agreed to five-minute rounds", said Whitaker, seemingly surprised by the room's response.

The committee chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler of NY, said in a tweet on Thursday night that Whitaker "will appear tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m".

"There has been no event, no decision that has required me to take any action, and I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel's investigation", Whitaker told Nadler.

Whitaker tried to interrupt, sparking a yelling match. "The rules are that you are here, so I need to ask the question, and I need to have my time restored so that you can behave appropriately".

The Republican ranking member went after Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) for grilling Whitaker about whether or not a previous organization he ran had received money from foreign donors, The Hill reported - which Whitaker later responded to saying he doesn't believe it did, adding "our main donor was a US entity".

According to CNN, former Trump associate Roger Stone was "one of the last key campaign associates" to be investigated.

But Whitaker's appointment has always been a test for how Democrats will use their newfound majority to flex their oversight muscles.

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Whitaker had publicly criticized the investigation before joining the Justice Department in 2017 but said on Friday he had not discussed it with Trump. Whitaker demanded, and eventually received, assurances that he would not be subpoenaed if he appeared.

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who Trump effectively fired in November, had recused from overseeing the Russian Federation investigation. Republicans on the committee, incensed by what Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking member, said was a "character assassination", first tried to adjourn the hearing, and then attempted to limit the scope of the questions.

There was tension on Capitol Hill Friday, when acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker testified before the house Judiciary Committee.

His answers to Democrats' questions often focused on procedure and involved rhetorical wind-ups that ate up precious seconds.

In his prepared opening statement, Whitaker said he meant to protect executive privilege involving his "deliberations or conversations" with the President, citing "long-standing executive branch policy".

Whitaker also denied media reports that Trump lashed out at him after learning his former lawyer and personal fixer Michael Cohen was pleading guilty for lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow.

The House Judiciary Committee prepared the subpoena, at the same time the Senate Judiciary Committee was supposed to vote to send the nomination of William Barr to become Attorney General to the floor shortly after 10 am Thursday.

"I trust that the members of this committee will respect the confidentiality that is necessary to the proper functioning of the presidency - just as we respect the confidentiality necessary to the legislative branch", Whitaker said. Whitaker responded by saying that he would not come unless the committee dropped its subpoena threat. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein oversaw the investigation until Whitaker was appointed after Sessions's resignation.

Whitaker has come under scrutiny for his involvement with the invention promotion company, which was accused of misleading consumers and has been under investigation by the FBI.

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