Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker testified that he had not “in any way” interfered in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“We have followed the special counsel’s regulations to a T. 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,” he said in testimony before the House Judiciary committee on Feb. 8.
When asked if he had spoken to the White House about the investigation, he said he wouldn’t discuss any private conversations with the president, citing executive privilege.
“But, to answer your question, I have not talked to the president of the United States about the special counsel’s investigation,” he said.
The committee’s top Republican, Doug Collins (R-Ga.), tried to adjourn the hearing before Whitaker answered any questions, calling it “pure political theater.”
“This is not about what the good men and women at the DOJ are doing, this is not about FBI agents doing their job,” he said, calling it a “character assassination” and a way to “get at the president.”
“Bring your popcorn,” he added. “I’m thinking maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in that back because this is becoming a show.”
Whitaker’s testimony comes after days of back and forth been Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler’s office (D-N.Y.) and the Justice Department over whether Whitaker would testify before the committee.
Nadler said he would subpoena him if he didn’t come voluntarily, and Whitaker said he wouldn’t testify if the committee subpoenaed him.
In a letter posted to Nadler’s twitter account Thursday night, Nadler told Whitaker there would be no need for a subpoena if he came “prepared to respond to questions.” The tweet said it was Nadler’s “response to Acting AG Whitaker regarding the use of a subpoena for tomorrow’s @HouseJudiciary hearing.”
Collins said posting that letter was disingenuous of the chairman because it was not the final communication Nadler had with the Justice Department. Collins alleged that there had been a “full cave” by the chairman to the Justice Department’s requests that was not reflected in the correspondence he posted to Twitter.
“So when we talk about transparency, which was so evident yesterday, now we get to the real meat of the issue,” Collins said.
Nadler did not respond to the accusation during the hearing.
Roger Stone Arrest
Collins asked Whitaker if he was aware that CNN was waiting outside political consultant Roger Stone’s house in Florida when he was arrested on Jan. 25, to which Whitaker said he was aware and found it “deeply concerning.”
Collins also asked if he knew how CNN got prior notice of the arrest or the indictment, to which Whitaker said he did not.
Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) asked about the use of almost 30 combat-ready officers to arrest Stone in a pre-dawn raid, and compared that to Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who was indicted in 2015 on corruption charges, and according to McClintock, was allowed to turn himself in.
“Just know that the FBI makes arrests in a manner most likely to ensure the safety of its agents, and of the person being arrested,” Whitaker said.
He declined to give details on what went into the decision for the FBI to use the show of force it did, but said the FBI was willing to come before the committee in a closed hearing to discuss it further.
Whitaker’s days as the head of the Justice Department are numbered. Once President Trump’s attorney general nominee, William Barr, is confirmed, which is likely to happen next week, Whitaker will step down.
Barr was already confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee and now awaits a vote in the full Senate.