What was pitched as an oversight hearing with Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker on Friday rapidly changed into recriminations and barbed exchanges as Democrats pressed him for hours on his dealings with FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation– and Whitaker, in turn, angered committee legislators with his similarly fiery returns.
The grilling amounted to a confirmation-style hearing for an acting official who may only have a few more days left on the task — President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Justice, William Barr, is poised for Senate confirmation in the near future.
HEARING APPEARS AS PERFORMING AG WHITAKER CALLS TIME ON DEM CHAIRMAN: ‘YOUR 5 MINUTES IS UP’
The concerns from Democrats were aggressive, especially on the question of Whitaker’s oversight of the Mueller probe. But the acting AG repeatedly punched back.
” Can you say right now, ‘Mr. President, Bob Mueller is truthful and not conflicted’?” asked Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.
” Congressman, I’m not a puppet to repeat what you’re stating,” Whitaker shot back.
Democrats became progressively upset at what they viewed as Whitaker’s efforts to run out the clock and manage the hearing process. Whitaker stunned onlookers when he informed House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., that his time slot had actually expired as Nadler asked Whitaker if he ‘d been “asked to authorize any demands or action” for the special counsel.
” Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up, so …” Whitaker replied as gasps ricocheted around the hearing room. ” I am here willingly. We have accepted five-minute rounds.”
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At one point, he tussled with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, when she continued whether he’s appeared before for an oversight hearing. While the response, ultimately, was that he had not, the congresswoman objected when Whitaker would not answer with an asked for “yes or no.” When she asked the chairman if her time had been brought back, Whitaker responded with a degree of snark, ” I don’t understand whether your time’s been restored or not.”
” Mr. Attorney General, we’re not joking here, and your humor is not acceptable,” the congresswoman reacted.
” I manage this time, Mr. Whitaker,” stated Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., when Whitaker accused him of challenging his character.
” This is my time. Mr. Whitaker, you do not run this committee. You do not run the Congress of the United States, and you don’t run the Judiciary Committee.”
Republicans on Friday backed Whitaker, with ranking member Doug Collins, R-Ga., calling on the committee to adjourn– although a vote to do so did not pass.
For his part, Collins called the daylong hearing a “dog and pony show.”
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The hearing had actually been teased a day previously when Nadler threatened to subpoena Whitaker, while the DOJ threatened to boycott the hearing.
Nadler made clear early Thursday that he did not wish to need to subpoena Whitaker, but said a “series of unpleasant occasions” suggested it would be much better for him to be prepared with that authority, simply in case he chose not to appear for the hearing.
But Whitaker then warned he would not show up unless legislators dropped the danger.
” Constant with longstanding practice, I stay ready to appear to affirm tomorrow, provided that the Chairman guarantees me that the Committee will not issue a subpoena today or tomorrow and that the Committee will engage in excellent faith negotiations prior to taking such an action down the road,” Whitaker composed to Nadler.
Hours later, Nadler reacted that if Whitaker appeared before the panel “prepared to respond to questions from our members, then I guarantee you there will be no requirement for the committee to issue a subpoena on or prior to February 8.”
Whitaker accepted the assurances, as evidenced by his Friday appearance. But Nadler told reporters after the hearing that he was not delighted with Whitaker’s responses and said he means to bring him back for an additional deposition.
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” He will return, because we will utilize a subpoena if we need to,” he said.
The hearing Friday comes as the Senate is close to confirming Trump’s nominee for lawyer general. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted, along celebration lines, to advance Barr’s nomination to the complete Senate for verification.