Whitaker says he won’t testify unless Democrats drop their subpoena threat

Clay Curtis
February 8, 2019

The Justice Department warns that if the House Judiciary Committee takes the "unusual step" of issuing a subpoena for Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, he will not appear; chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge reports.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee says Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker will appear before the panel Friday. While the subpoena has been approved, panel chairman Jerrold Nadler said he hopes he won't have to use it.

Nadler said that authorizing a subpoena for Whitaker was necessary because Whitaker failed to tell the committee whether the Trump administration would invoke privilege with respect to a series of questions they intend to ask about Whitaker's conversations with the White House about Mueller's probe and his decision not to recuse himself from the matter.

The questions Democrats want to ask Whitaker - outlined in a January 22 letter to which the AG did not respond until Thursday - fall under "a category of communications that Administrations of both parties have viewed as raising confidentiality interests that are vital to a President's ability to discharge the responsibilities of his office", Whitaker wrote in his letter.

But Republicans objected to the move, arguing that Whitaker had not yet personally given the panel a legitimate reason to be concerned - and that approving a preemptive subpoena would set a bad precedent for the panel.

"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 goal of an oversight hearing, and I will not allow that to be the case", Whitaker added.

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Nadler said in his statement that the committee granted him with subpoena power to show that with Democrats in power, Congress would no longer allow "government witnesses to dodge uncomfortable questions". It remains to be seen whether Nadler's more conciliatory tone will be enough to get Whitaker into the witness seat voluntarily Friday or if the Justice Department will demand a more concrete assurance.

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.

Whitaker's appearance became questionable Thursday after the panel, led by Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of NY, approved a tentative subpoena to ensure that Whitaker would appear and answer questions.

"Without the threat of a subpoena, I believe it may be hard to hold Mr. Whitaker to this standard". He agreed. Both parties engaged in a back and forth regarding scheduling. "There has been no breakdown here".

"If you appear before the Committee tomorrow morning and if you are prepared to respond to questions from our members, then I assure you that there will be no need for the Committee to issue a subpoena on or before February 8", Nadler wrote.

Nadler had noted that previous Trump administration officials, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, declined to answer questions about conversations with the White House during testimony, saying that the president might want to claim executive privilege on those conversations in the future.

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