Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is appearing before the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Jerry Nadler (NY-10). Even before Whitaker appeared, drama was unfolding. Two weeks before this hearing, Rep. Nadler gave Whitaker the questions the committee would be asking and told him that the committee was seeking notification 48 hours in advance of any questions Whitaker would not be answering due to a claim of “executive privilege.” As former US Attorney Renato Mariotti explained in a Twitter thread, “executive privilege” is narrowly defined and Nadler giving Whitaker two weeks to sit with the questions should have been plenty of time for Trump and Whitaker to decide which questions would be covered. The 48 hour deadline was meant to prevent Whitaker from burning time, refusing to answer questions by saying that he’s “not sure” if this conversation or that one would be covered, essentially running out the clock before he’s replaced next week by Bill Barr.
Whitaker missed the 48 hour deadline and began to waiver on whether he would appear at all. Rep. Nadler and the Judiciary Committee responded by preparing a subpoena in advance. Long story short, Whitaker did appear and from the start of the hearing, he seemed uneasy in his answers. And, of course, he did claim executive privilege.
Below are some of the lowlights of Whitaker’s appearance, including this startling moment when he informed Chairman Nadler that his time was up. This was such a brazen moment of disrespect that there were loud gasps and laughter from observers. Listen:
WATCH: In an extraordinary move by a witness, Acting AG Whitaker cuts off Chairman Nadler's questioning by noting:
“Mr. Chairman, I see that your 5 minutes are up." pic.twitter.com/5blAiVsHeZ
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) February 8, 2019
Some of those gasps came from other members of the House Judiciary Committee. Roll Call photographer Tom Williams captured the reaction of Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Chairman Nadler, who could not believe their ears.
Members react as acting AG Matt Whitaker informs Chairman @RepJerryNadler his five minute questioning period was over, during a @HouseJudiciary hearing where he was questioned about Robert Mueller's investigation.@RepJayapal @RepRaskin @RepZoeLofgren @RepDougCollins pic.twitter.com/b3bvtMwgR7
— Tom Williams (@pennstatetom) February 8, 2019
Of course, there is a good reason why Whitaker wanted to stonewall around these questions.
Nadler just suggested that Whitaker was briefed on the Mueller investigation while he was still considering whether to recuse himself. If true, that would be totally improper.
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) February 8, 2019
And while Whitaker told the committee that he did not have any conversations with Donald Trump about the special counsel investigation while he was Acting Attorney General, he was more cagey on the investigation in the Southern District of New York, which is investigating the Trump Organization, among several Trump-related investigations. MSNBC legal analyst Matthew Miller hits on why this is important.
I find it very telling DOJ says Whitaker was willing to testify the WH did not ask for any promises or commitments about the Mueller probe, but is notably silent about the SDNY probe. Nadler had raised both in his letter. https://t.co/Adt4PovpPq
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) February 7, 2019
Did Whitaker try to interfere in the Southern District’s investigation into Trump’s orbit?
Put a pin in this answer – he just talked about his conversations with POTUS, even as he says he won't. If he won't make similar assurances that he did not discuss other things (such as SDNY) it's essentially a confirmation that it happened. https://t.co/rgaXft2wDh
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) February 8, 2019
In the end, Whitaker may have given the committee all they need to know to further the investigation. And Nadler sounds like he’s just getting started.
Nadler to Whitaker: "I take your reluctance to answer questions about these [Special Counsel] communications as a deeply troubling sign …Your failure to respond fully to our questions here today in no way limits the ability of this Committee to get the answers in the long run."
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) February 8, 2019
You can watch further testimony live here:
Rep. Shiela Jackson Lee is not laughing.