Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker snapped back on Friday at newly emboldened Democrats in Congress who are pushing for information on the special counsel's Russian Federation probe as they try to put President Donald Trump's administration under greater scrutiny.
In the letter Nadler sent Whitaker last week, he said he wants to ask about his decision not to recuse himself from the special counsel's investigation, whether he has ever been briefed on the special counsel's investigation, whether Mr. Trump contacted him about former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, and whether Mr. Trump ever talked about firing or reassigning personnel in the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of NY, among other things. "There has been no decision that has required me to take any action, and I have not interfered with the special counsel's investigation in any way".
"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. In his opening statement, Nadler criticized Whitaker's decision not to recuse himself from the Mueller probe, despite the recommendations of Justice Department officials.
Republicans derided the hearing as political theater especially since Whitaker may well be in his final week on the job.
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During the hearing, Mr Whitaker told the committee: "While I have specifically been saying that I'm not going to comment about my conversations with the president or his senior staff I have also been very clear that the president has not instructed me to do anything". He noted that he did not enforce the five-minute rule during Whitaker's opening statement, then asked him to "answer the question, please".
In the Justice Department letter to Nadler, the Justice Department did outline several questions that Whitaker is prepared to answer.
There was laughter and audible "Ohhhs" in the room as Nadler smiled and Whitaker attempted to justify his non-answer by saying, "I'm here voluntarily, we've agreed to five-minute rounds". Whitaker's terse response was that Nadler has run out of time to ask the question.
"Can you say right now, "Mr. President, Bob Mueller is honest and not conflicted"?" asked Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.
"I will not allow the witness to stall and waste members' time", Nadler said.
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"We're all trying to figure out: who are you, where did you come from and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice", said congressman Hakeem Jeffries.
Congressman Doug Collins, the top Republican on the committee, accused Democrats of staging political drama.
"Obviously, Whitaker wants to avoid answering certain questions, which will be hard for him to do if Nadler subpoenas him", he said. Some Democrats consider Mr. Whitaker's appointment to be illegitimate'. The Senate is expected to vote as soon as next week on confirming William Barr, Trump's pick for attorney general. "Have you communicated any information in that briefing to President Trump?"
Nadler gave the question in advance to give Trump time to actually invoke the privilege.
Swalwell: The president has called him conflicted.
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