Whitaker refuses to testify unless Democrats drop subpoena threat

Leroy Wright
February 8, 2019

Whitaker had been set to testify Friday before the House Judiciary Committee, where he was expected to face pointed questions about his oversight of the special counsel's investigations into Russian election interference.

Collins said the subpoena for Whitaker was "nothing short of political theater", but also said that should Whitaker break his promise to appear before the committee voluntarily, then he would support a subpoena.

But, while making clear he does not want to have to compel Whitaker's testimony, Nadler said "a series of troubling events" suggested he should be prepared, just in case he doesn't show up for his hearing.

Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whittaker arrives inside the U.S. Capitol Rotunda for a ceremony honoring late former U.S. President George H.W. Bush in Washington, U.S., December 3, 2018.

"Political theater is not the objective of an oversight hearing", Whitaker declared, "and I will not allow that to be the case".

Democrats are anxious that Whitaker, whose public comments before taking over the Justice Department suggested he was sympathetic to Trump and critical of the Mueller probe, may seek to evade questions he is asked during the proceedings.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have armed their chairman with a tentative subpoena for Matthew Whitaker ahead of a Friday hearing, but the acting attorney general - who previously had agreed to testify - warned in response that he won't show up unless lawmakers drop the threat.

Whitaker has faced questions since Trump appointed him over his criticism of the Mueller probe.

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Asked about Whitaker testifying before Congress, President Donald Trump called Whitaker an "outstanding person" and said he would do very well should he testify. A Justice Department spokesperson told Fox News earlier this week that Whitaker had, in fact, accepted Nadler's invitation to testify in public.

Republicans strongly opposed Nadler's resolution to approve a subpoena if necessary.

That upended weeks of tricky negotiations and Mr. Whitaker's agreement to appear voluntarily - and, for a time, appeared to have pushed the Justice Department to cancel Mr. Whitaker's appearance.

He is likely in his final days on the job given that the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved the nomination of William Barr as acting attorney general.

"Chairman Nadler and Democrats overplayed their hand", ranking member Doug Collins of Georgia said.

Republicans proposed an amendment, offered by Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, to add Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein - a familiar target of the GOP given his past oversight of the Mueller probe - to Nadler's subpoena, which was rejected by Democrats.

In a letter to Nadler after the vote, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd laid out a lengthy legal argument for asserting such executive privilege, saying administration officials from both parties have declined to answer questions about conversations they have had with the president. Nadler said that is "ridiculous" and administration officials must provide the committee with answers or a better excuse to withhold them.

By arming themselves with a pre-emptive subpoena to dangle over Whitaker's head on Friday during his voluntary testimony, the committee's Democrats had hoped to expedite disclosure of his conversations with Trump.

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