Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker says he’s ready to testify Friday to the House Judiciary Committee — but the panel’s Democrats approved a subpoena anyway on Thursday, saying they wanted to put him on record that he could be punished if he doesn’t answer all their questions.
“If Mr. Whitaker appears in the hearing room, as scheduled, and if he provides direct answers to our questions, then I have no intention of ever issuing this subpoena,” Mr. Nadler said. “If he does not, then we will have the tools we need to ensure that we may adequately meet our own responsibilities.”
Republicans called the move an early overreach by the new majority.
“A subpoena should only follow the breakdown of an accommodation process, and as a last resort against persons seeking to frustrate the legitimate oversight of this committee. There has been no breakdown here,” said Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the panel.
Friday’s hearing is the first for the new Democratic majority to bring a Cabinet-level officer to testify.
And despite Mr. Whitaker only having been in the job for three months — since Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ ouster after Election Day — Democrats said they have a host of questions lined up, including what promises he made to get the job, and whether he’s interfered in the ongoing special counsel’s probe into Russian election meddling and Trump campaign figures’ activities.
The hearing with Mr. Whitaker is all the more striking because he could be out of the acting attorney general’s job next week. The Senate could vote to approve President Trump’s nominee, William P. Barr, within days.
Republicans complained that the hearing should also include Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has overseen the special counsel’s probe for most of its existence, until Mr. Whitaker took over the reins.
They moved to add Mr. Rosenstein’s name to the subpoena.
Democrats defeated that, then approved the Whitaker subpoena on a 23-15 vote.
Mr. Nadler, in a letter last month to Mr. Whitaker, said he will demand answers to whether Mr. Whitaker was in the loop before Mr. Trump “fired” Mr. Sessions, why Mr. Whitaker didn’t recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel’s probe, and what Mr. Whitaker’s interactions have been with the president since taking office.
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