Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker faced a sharply divided USA congressional committee Friday, with Democrats pressing him on his relationship to President Donald Trump and oversight of the special counsel's Russian Federation investigation.
But early on, Whitaker struck a note of defiance as Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) asked him about his interactions with President Donald Trump and others in the White House. Near the beginning of the hearing, the 49-year-old informed Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler that his five-minutes questioning time had expired, prompting gasps from the chamber.
"Mr. Chairman, as I said earlier today in my opening remarks, 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 told the committee. Jackson Lee had asked Whitaker whether he ever appeared before an oversight hearing or was confirmed in the Senate, and Nadler demanded he "answer the question as asked".
Democrats have expressed concerns about Whitaker's previous partisan statements about the Mueller probe, his resumé and not being in the line of succession to succeed Jeff Sessions. But Whitaker has not appeared to take any actions with regard to the Mueller investigation, and he's left the day-to-day supervision to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was supervising the probe when Sessions was attorney general and recused himself.
Whitaker also reminded the committee that attorney general nominee William Barr would likely take over his job as attorney general in a week, and scolded lawmakers for not asking him about the Justice Department's work on violent crime, the opioid crisis, religious liberty, and free speech on college campuses.
The tone of the hearing had been teased on Thursday when Nadler threatened to subpoena Whitaker, while the DOJ threatened to boycott the hearing.
"I'm not kidding when I say I have interviewed terrorists who are more cooperative and respectful than Matt Whitaker was today", Figliuzzi began, provoking laughter from MSNBC host Nicole Wallace. "The rules are that you are here, and I need to ask the question and I need to have my time restored so that you can behave appropriately".
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. Collins called the daylong hearing a "dog and pony show".
Mr. Swalwell then asked Mr. Whitaker to use the hearing to express that view to Mr. Trump.
"Congresswoman, I am an acting attorney general".
Whitaker said he can't talk about ongoing investigations, but that yes, he has been briefed on them.
'I want to be very specific about this, Mr. Chairman because I think it's going to allay a lot of fears that have existed among this committee, among the legislative branch largely, and maybe among some American people, ' Whitaker said.
Democrats said they would inquire about Whitaker's past business dealings, too. "Have you communicated any information in that briefing to President Trump?".