Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker appeared before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday morning and stated that he had been briefed on the status of the special counsel investigation under Robert Mueller. However, Whitaker claimed that he had not briefed Donald Trump, or any other White House official, and further claimed that he has taken no action to interfere with the investigation.
After a day of negotiations, Whitaker finally sat down in front of the Judiciary Committee to answer questions under oath. But before the hearing could even begin, Republicans on the committee tried to scuttle it. After ranking member Doug Collins spent his opening address attacking the whole idea of questioning Whitaker (an attack that required telling a story about his children’s Easter egg hunts), and calling the whole idea “offensive,” he then called for the whole hearing to be adjourned. After losing a voice vote, Republicans continued to burn up the hearing’s time by calling for a roll call vote. Whitaker then spent much of his opening statement making simultaneous claims that crime had fallen sharply—in part, because of, seriously, Trump’s actions on bump stocks and “improving” background checks—and that America faces a criminal crisis because of “our porous southern border.”
Chairman Jerry Nadler went straight to the point most Americans wanted to know, asking if Whitaker had been briefed on the Mueller investigation; he admitted he had. But he refused to explain how often or to what extent. He also stated that he had not interfered in the investigation or made any changes to Mueller’s authorization. Whitaker claimed that he had not briefed Trump or any senior official at the White House. When asked about any third party he had briefed, Whitaker equivocated, saying it was “impossible” for him to answer.
Throughout the exchange, Whitaker continued the tradition of Trump officials in claiming a blanket privilege regarding anything he might have said to Trump. Nadler pointed out that the committee had provided questions in advance, had warned Whitaker about broad claims of privilege, and had informed the acting attorney general that he would have to return to the committee and provide a deposition under oath—a deposition where, if Trump wanted to claim privilege, he would actually have to claim privilege. Otherwise, Whitaker would be expected to answer. Then Whitaker did answer.
Whitaker: Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up.
The snide response from Whitaker brought grumbles from across the room. But Whitaker wasn’t done instructing the committee in how it should run its business. After repeatedly refusing to give a yes or no answer to questions, Whitaker tried to halt the questioning by insisting that they had agreed on five-minute rounds. Whitaker also took time out to instruct the committee that it wasn’t asking him the right questions, insisting that it should be spending its time letting him talk about all the great things the DOJ had done.
Rep. Collins followed up with the most critical questions on Republican minds: How did CNN know Roger Stone was going to be arrested, and is Bruce Ohr still employed?