Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker insisted he hasn’t “interfered” with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe in his much-anticipated debut before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday.
“We have followed the special counsel’s regulations to a T,” Whitaker said. “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.”
Yet his answer followed a remarkable show of defiance for a witness in a congressional hearing. As Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), the chairman of the judiciary committee, pressed Whitaker to say clearly whether he’d ever messed with the investigation, Whitaker shot back that the chairman’s time had expired.
“Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up,” Whitaker said, to astonished laugher in the room.
Nadler said he’d have to answer anyway.
Whitaker acknowledged that “fears” have arisen among lawmakers and “some American people” about his position atop the Department of Justice with regard to the Mueller probe, but declared them unfounded.
He said he’s been fully briefed about the investigation, and knew in advance that Mueller planned to indict President Trump’s longtime confidant and former political adviser Roger Stone.
Nadler also focused on his relationship with Trump, pressing him on whether he is keeping the president apprised of the investigation’s inner workings. But Whitaker was cagey here, telling the committee he hasn’t spoken to Trump about Mueller — even though he began his testimony by insisting he would not answer questions about his communications with the White House.
“I have not talked to the president of the United States about the special counsel’s investigation,” Whitaker said.
When pressed about whether he might have spoken with some third party who could have conveyed information to Trump or his legal team about the investigation, Whitaker was far less certain.
“That’s an impossible question for me to [answer],” Whitaker said. “I do not believe that I have briefed third-party individuals outside the Department of Justice. I have received briefings myself, and I am usually the end point of that information.”
Nadler said he didn’t think the question had been answered, but he moved on.
Whitaker’s appointment in November following the midterm elections caused concern among Democrats and legal experts in light of his previous public criticisms of the special counsel's investigation.
Department of Justice ethics officials recommended late last year that Whitaker recuse himself from the investigation, but Whitaker overruled that advice.
Cover: Acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker leaves for a break in a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Rayburn Building titled "Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice," where he is expected to be questioned about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation on Friday, February 8, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)