WASHINGTON — Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker defended his role overseeing Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into potential collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
“I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation,” Whitaker told the House Judiciary Committee at an oversight hearing on Friday.
Whitaker assumed office last November after President Donald Trump fired then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Whitaker had served as Sessions’ chief of staff.
Whitaker has come under fire due to an article he wrote prior to his appointment that seemed to question the merits of Mueller’s investigation. He also has been criticized for having recently told reporters that Mueller will soon issue a final report.
Whitaker’s testimony comes less than one day after the committee voted to authorize a subpoena to mandate his appearance. Whitaker had said he would not appear unless he was given written assurance that the subpoena would not be issued. Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) agreed to withhold the subpoena so long as Whitaker agreed to appear.
In his opening statement, Nadler took issue with Whitaker’s refusal to discuss conversations he has had with the president.
“In other words, you reserve the right to refuse to answer the question forever. That’s not how it works, Mr. Whitaker.”
Whitaker said disclosing the contents of the conversations might violate executive privilege. His refusal to comment was first stated in memorandum prior to the hearing. Whitaker reiterated his refusal during testimony.
Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-Ga.) dismissed the hearing as “pure political theatre” by Democrats during his opening statement. Collins then moved to adjourn the hearing. The motion failed.
Whitaker testified that he has not discussed Mueller’s investigation with Trump.
“I do not intend today to talk about my private conversations with the president of the United States, but to answer your question, I have not talked to the president of the United States about the special counsel’s investigation.”
Whitaker may soon be replaced by attorney general-nominee William Barr.
On Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance the nomination. A floor vote is expected sometime next week.