The news from the Department of Justice on Thursday seems to indicate that noted scam attorney, peddler of male-enhancement toilets, and acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker may just not understand how subpoenas works. CNN reports that Whitaker is refusing to appear before the House Judiciary Committee for an oversight hearing on Friday unless that committee first agrees to put down their subpoena and back slowly away. Which …. no.
The committee authorized the subpoena expressly because Whitaker and other Trump officials have threatened not to appear, and when officials have deigned to visit, they’ve spent their time reciting doggerel while refusing to answer questions. The subpoena exists to make sure Whitaker does show up, but Whitaker is saying that he won’t come unless he receives word, in writing, that the subpoena will not be used. It’s a response so dunderpated, so divorced from simple cause and effect, that … yeah, it’s exactly the sort of thing that might be expected from this White House, and especially from Whitaker.
The House has in its hands a document by which Whitaker can be compelled to testify. Whitaker is saying he will not testify unless the House agrees not to use the thing that can make him testify. Don’t think about it too deeply. Clearly Whitaker has not.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler has already indicated that he will unfurl the subpoena should Whitaker not appear or should he refuse answer the committee’s questions. The I-won’t-show-unless-you-promise-not-to-make-me letter from the Justice Department complains that Democrats have obtained a subpoena before asking Whitaker questions. That’s true. It’s sort of the time that a subpoena is handy. And the Trump DOJ does seem to know exactly why Democrats are standing by with the critical piece of paper in hand.
“The committee evidently seeks to ask questions about confidential presidential communications that no attorney general could ever be expected to disclose under the circumstances,” Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote in the letter, obtained by CNN.
If by this it means Democrats are likely to ask Whitaker how much he was told to interfere with the special counsel’s office’s investigations, or whether a conversation about Russia preceded his being placed over the Mueller investigation, then, yes, it seems very likely they will. And should Whitaker choose to claim the same kind of meaningless “privilege” that Republicans have allowed to go unchallenged over the last two years, he might look at how quickly Democrats readied that subpoena and imagine just how fast they’ll produce charges of contempt.