Published: Sat, February 09, 2019
Worldwide | By Angelina Lucas

‘Trump loyalist’ overseeing Russian Federation probe quizzed over ‘interference’

‘Trump loyalist’ overseeing Russian Federation probe quizzed over ‘interference’

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker evoked stunned gasps and laughter from onlookers during a contentious House hearing Friday when he told the Democratic chairman his time was up after taking another round of questions regarding special counsel Robert Mueller's Russian Federation probe.

"In light of that commitment, Acting Attorney General Whitaker looks forward to voluntarily appearing at tomorrow's hearing and discussing the great work of the Department of Justice", said spokeswoman Kerri Kupec.

Though Nadler would not be subpoenaing him Friday, Whitaker's dancing around that, as well as DOJ policy that it doesn't comment on ongoing investigation, was a source of tension throughout the hearing, in question by both Democrats and Republicans.

Nadler, a New York Democrat, said that as late as last week the committee had received reports that some at the department were counseling Whitaker not to appear.

He told lawmakers that there has been no change since his arrival in the job in the "overall management" of special counsel's Robert Mueller investigation. After Nadler's opening statement - in which he also criticized Whitaker's decision not recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation.

Whitaker: "Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up". "We have agreed to five-minute rounds".

Nadler made clear at the beginning of the hearing that he and Whitaker had come to an agreement for voluntary testimony that made subpoenaing him not necessary for the hearing.

Whitaker, however, did not answer that request, among other questions he avoided.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, California Democrat, pressed Mr. Whitaker on his views about Mr. Mueller.

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"The time for this administration to postpone accountability is over", Nadler said.

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 subpoena should only follow a breakdown of the accommodation process and as a last resort against persons seeking to frustrate legitimate oversight on this committee", said Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the committee's top Republican.

The hearing was the first, and likely only, chance for newly empowered Democrats in the majority to grill an attorney general they perceive as a Trump loyalist and whose appointment they suspect was aimed at suppressing investigations of the Republican president. Nadler said he hopes not to have to use the subpoena, but "a series of troubling events over the past few months suggest that we should be prepared".

Jamie Raskin, Democrat from Maryland, reacts as Whitaker tells the chair Nadler his time has expired for questioning.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday to recommend that the full Senate confirm Barr as attorney general, which could happen as soon as next week.

On Thursday evening, Nadler said no subpoena would be issued if Whitaker appeared before the committee Friday prepared to answer questions.

"In your capacity as acting attorney general, have you ever been asked to approve any request or action to be taken by the special counsel?" asked Nadler.

But there were several questions he did not answer. When she asked the chairman if her time had been restored, Whitaker replied with a degree of snark, "I don't know whether your time's been restored or not". Deliberations between the president and his advisors should be kept confidential because otherwise people won't give him the blunt advice he might need.

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