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

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker

The Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee threatened to subpoena Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker at the end of a contentious Capitol Hill hearing Friday.

The hearing was hugely confrontational, as Democrat after Democrat grilled Whitaker over his ascension to acting attorney general, his conversations about the ongoing investigation and his past comments as a private citizen about Mueller and the probe.

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.

"I have not talked to the president of the United States about the special counsel investigation", Mr Whitaker told the House Judiciary Committee.

"If he feels that a yes or a no is appropriate, he'll answer in a yes or a no; if he does not feel it's appropriate, he should be able to answer in the appropriate way, as many other Democrats have done before this committee before", Collins said.

Whitaker has been undertaking significant preparations ahead of the hearing, including conducting briefings with every the Justice Department component and participating in several mock hearings, according to the officials.

An aide to a senior House Republican said of Whitaker's jab during a hearing recess: 'I've never seen that one before. The Democrat's "jaw dropped when Acting AG Whitaker told the chairman his 'five minutes is up, '" she reported.

The hearing concluded with Nadler calling Whitaker's testimony inconsistent "at best". "We have agreed to five-minute rounds", said Whitaker, seemingly surprised by the room's response.

"Can you say right now, "Mr. President, Bob Mueller is honest and not conflicted"?" asked Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.

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Whitaker's appointment also raised legal questions, prompted court challenges, and renewed scrutiny of his past business practices.

Asked about Whitaker testifying before Congress, President Donald Trump called Whitaker an "outstanding person" and said he would do very well should he testify.

In his opening remarks before Whittaker's testimony, ranking member Doug Collins, R-Ga., called the hearing "a "dog and pony show", mockingly suggesting "we just set up a popcorn machine in the back". The acting attorney general said he thought Mr. Mueller was both honest and not conflicted. William Barr, Trump's nominee to be his permanent Attorney General, is on track to be confirmed by the full Senate next week.

The Texas Democrat was trying to ask Whitaker if he had a confirmation hearing and if it has been more than ten years since he has testified before Congress. But it does mean that a congressional witness's claim of executive privilege is hardly "game over" when it comes to having to answer touchy questions.

The stalemate ended Thursday evening after the committee chairman, Nadler, said the committee would not issue a subpoena if Whitaker appeared voluntarily.

Nadler then said his time was expired and recognized Collins to begin his questioning.

Whitaker had been chief of staff to Sessions, who was forced from the Cabinet last November as Trump seethed over Sessions' decision to step aside from overseeing the Russian Federation investigation.

He talks to Anna Maria Tremonti about his time working on Trump's campaign, and having the president's ear. Jordan recalled how Rosenstein "got all huffy" with him when he asked him if there were other "specific individuals" mentioned in the memo.

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