WASHINGTON ― Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is trying to back out of his scheduled Friday testimony before the House Judiciary Committee after the committee voted to subpoena him if he refuses to answer questions about conversations he had with President Donald Trump and invokes executive privilege.
In a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote that Whitaker would not testify unless the committee assures the Justice Department by 6 p.m. that it will not issue a subpoena for Whitaker today or tomorrow, and that the committee would engage in “good faith negotiations” with DOJ before issuing a subpoena.
This letter comes after several weeks of negotiations between the Justice Department and the Judiciary Committee, and Whitaker is set to testify voluntarily on Friday about a number of topics. House Democrats plan to press him on his conversations with Trump about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
If Whitaker does testify, the letter said, he would say “at no time did the White House ask for, or did the Acting Attorney General provide, any promises or commitments concerning the Special Counsel’s investigation.”
Whitaker, who headed up a conservative organization that targeted Democrats and critiqued the Mueller investigation in cable news hits before joining the Justice Department, was named acting attorney general following the forced resignation of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in November. Whitaker previously served as a U.S. attorney during the Bush administration but was not serving in a Senate-confirmed Justice Department role when he was named acting attorney general, making his lengthy term as head of DOJ historically unprecedented.
The Justice Department issued this statement from Whitaker:
“Weeks ago, in good faith, I voluntarily agreed to appear and testify on February 8 before the House Judiciary Committee. We have devoted considerable resources and numerous hours to my preparation, and I have looked forward to discussing the important work of the great men and women of the Department of Justice. Unfortunately, the Committee now has deviated from historic practice and protocol and taken the unnecessary and premature step of authorizing a subpoena to the me, the Acting Attorney General, even though I had agreed to voluntarily appear. Such unprecedented action breaches our prior agreement and circumvents the constitutionally required accommodation process. Based upon today’s action, it is apparent that the Committee’s true intention is not to discuss the great work of the Department of Justice, but to create a public spectacle. Political theater is not the purpose of an oversight hearing, and I will not allow that to be the case.
The news came out around the same time as William Barr, President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general was cleared by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Barr is expected to be confirmed by the full Republican-controlled Senate in the near future.
Read the full letter below.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.