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story.lead_photo.caption House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (left) and ranking member Rep. Doug Collins confer Thursday before the committee approved a possible subpoena of acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department said Thursday that Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker will testify before the House Judiciary Committee today as scheduled, ending a day's worth of uncertainty over whether he would appear.

Whitaker's appearance became questionable Thursday after the panel, led by Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, approved a tentative subpoena to ensure that Whitaker would appear and answer questions. Whitaker responded by saying he wouldn't appear unless the committee dropped its subpoena threat, which he derided as an act of "political theater." After conversations with the committee, a department spokesman said, Nadler agreed that the committee would not issue a subpoena if Whitaker voluntarily appears at the hearing.

"In light of that commitment, Acting Attorney General Whitaker looks forward to voluntarily appearing at tomorrow's hearing and discussing the great work of the Department of Justice," said spokesman Kerri Kupec.

Nadler did not detail his discussions with the department but tweeted Thursday evening: "CONFIRMED: Acting Attorney General Whitaker will appear tomorrow morning at 9:30am."

Whitaker's testimony has been highly anticipated by Democrats eager to press him on his interactions with President Donald Trump and his oversight of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

The vote by the committee didn't issue a subpoena but allowed Nadler to do so if Whitaker was uncooperative. Nadler said that as late as last week the committee had received reports that some at the department were counseling Whitaker not to appear.

Whitaker insisted Thursday that that was not the case and criticized the committee for authorizing a subpoena.

"I remain willing to appear to testify tomorrow, provided that the chairman assures me that the committee will not issue a subpoena today or tomorrow, and that the committee will engage in good faith negotiations before taking such a step down the road," Whitaker said Thursday in a statement.

He said the committee has "deviated from historic practice and protocol and taken the unnecessary and premature step of authorizing a subpoena to me, the acting attorney general, even though I had agreed to voluntarily appear." He said that move is a breach of his agreement with the panel.

Whitaker's position was relayed in a letter sent Thursday to the committee.

"Respectfully, this proposed approach reflects a striking departure from the constitutionally based understanding between our co-equal branches of government," wrote Stephen Boyd, head of the Justice Department's office of legislative affairs.

The panel vote on the subpoena along partisan lines underscores the new political tensions around Mueller's work now that Democrats control the House.

"I hope not to have to use the subpoena," Nadler said earlier Thursday. "Unfortunately, a series of troubling events over the past few months suggest that we should be prepared."

Daniel Schwarz, Nadler's spokesman, said, "That's what we've been talking about this whole time." He stressed that the panel had sent Whitaker many letters and requests to settle points of his testimony in advance, to which he had chosen not to respond. "You can't pretend there's been no conversations for the last month."

Democrats worry that Whitaker, whose public comments before taking over the Justice Department suggested that he was sympathetic to Trump and critical of the Mueller inquiry, may seek to evade questions he is asked during the proceedings.

They pointed to a pattern of administration witnesses, such as former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who refused to answer certain queries by suggesting that the president "might" want to invoke executive privilege over certain parts of their testimony, to justify the concern.

"The committee can and should expect a direct answer to any question," said Nadler, who opted to send Whitaker his questions in advance and require that he tell the panel about any plans to invoke executive privilege at least 48 hours before the hearing. "That deadline has come and gone ... therefore I expect the acting attorney general to answer all of these questions without equivocation."

In his letter, Boyd laid out an argument for asserting such executive privilege, saying that administration officials from both parties have declined to answer questions about conversations they have had with the president.

"Rather than conducting appropriate oversight into the department's programs and activities, the committee evidently seeks to ask questions about confidential presidential communications that no attorney general could ever be expected to disclose under the circumstances," Boyd wrote.

Nadler said invoking executive privilege is "ridiculous" and administration officials must provide the committee with answers or a better excuse to withhold them.

"Without the threat of a subpoena, I believe it may be difficult to hold Mr. Whitaker to this standard," Nadler said.

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

"This subpoena is nothing short of political theater," said Rep. Douglas Collins of Georgia, the panel's ranking Republican. "I'm concerned about the chilling effect on other witnesses who would be willing to testify voluntarily, and when they see this happen, they'll just hold out."

After Whitaker made his intentions clear, Collins said that Nadler and the Democrats had "overplayed their hand" with the goal of scoring "political points" against the president. "They authorized a pre-emptive subpoena, treating a voluntary witness as hostile," he said.

Republicans had attempted to get the committee to expand the subpoena-in-reserve to give Nadler the authority to subpoena Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whom GOP members of the panel have long wanted to question about reports that he suggested recording the president and invoking constitutional procedures to remove him from office.

If the panel had questions about oversight of Mueller's probe, Republicans also argued, it would be better to question Rosenstein, who had been monitoring it for far longer than Whitaker.

"We want to add Mr. Rosenstein to get at the heart of the matter of the questions," said Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., who presented the amendment to add Rosenstein's name to the subpoena authorization. "He could probably answer those questions more thoroughly than anybody else."

The panel voted against the proposal, also along party lines.

Whitaker's hearing probably will be one of his final appearances as acting attorney general. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines Thursday to advance the nomination of William Barr to serve as attorney general, and the full Senate is expected to vote on confirmation next week. He is expected to be confirmed, as he needs to secure a simple majority of the GOP-led Senate for his nomination to be approved.

Information for this article was contributed by Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post; and by Mary Clare Jalonick and Eric Tucker of The Associated Press.

Photo by AP
Matthew Whitaker

A Section on 02/08/2019

Print Headline: Acting AG's Russia testimony due today

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Comments

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  • tngilmer
    February 8, 2019 at 3:57 a.m.

    What garbage. Even the lefist press like WaPo or the NYT, CNN, or MSNBC have alleged no actions by Whitaker to obstruct or interfere with the Mueller investigation. Also, Whitaker will leave the position when the new AG is approved by the Senate next week. Nadler is a publicity hog. He is fat like a hog too.

  • JIMGAIL61788GMAILCOM
    February 8, 2019 at 6:03 a.m.

    From very bad to worse.Can we say obstruction?

  • PopMom
    February 8, 2019 at 6:44 a.m.

    There is no executive privilege with respect to communications between a president and government official with respect to the president's wrongdoing or his attempts to obstruct justice. It's a fake privilege manufactured by the most crooked president in our nation's history.

  • JIMGAIL61788GMAILCOM
    February 8, 2019 at 7:58 a.m.

    Acting AG Would not appear under subpoena threat,but will appear without one. Will he take an oath to tell the truth,or will he talk while not under oath? This is such B.S..He is an acting AG.He is not a principal then is he?Where are the nominations for a REAL,and not acting AG.More wrangling by Trump to obstruct the NON FAKE TRUTH.When are the Republicans going to relent,and admit they followed the wrong guy to the oval office.I would be embarrassed to admit such a blunder also.

  • mrcharles
    February 8, 2019 at 8 a.m.

    Ignore the man behind the curtain. If a minority claims bad acts by law enforcement, the usual con response is ugly and hateful with comments to indicate the minority probably broke the law or should not complain. Yet a con when their type gets in a bind has free reign to complain about the nasty gubermint jack booted law enforcement being mean to them.
    Facts are Russia interfered in our elections. Putin tells the deity like DT they didn't, DT says I believe the killer. Then DT defends the descriptive word killer by saying we are not so innocent. Cons accept that but if OBAMA did this they would mess their pants and would cry and moan.

    TNG, typical use of GOP attack those you disagree with by attacks of something other than the issues.

  • Skeptic1
    February 8, 2019 at 8:23 a.m.

    Be careful what you as for, Whitaker is more likely going to expose the witch hunt and collusion between the FBI and DOJ Obama holder-overs. The new boss Barr has already said he intends to investigate the Obama-Clinton crime family.

  • Skeptic1
    February 8, 2019 at 8:26 a.m.

    PopMom...wherever you go that law degree you need to get your money back. You are starting to sound like Rbear claiming to be an expert in all things.

  • glh05230944
    February 8, 2019 at 9:23 a.m.

    Septic, Pop Mom does have a law degree and is a hell of a lot smarter than you. She is correct in what she said about executive privilege. Septic, your tank is leaking. We all know what septic tanks excrete when leaking.

  • PopMom
    February 8, 2019 at 9:37 a.m.

    Skeptic,

    Go read US v. Nixon, which does recognize an executive privilege, but it is narrow. If Congress wanted to ask about military or diplomatic secrets, the AG would be correct to refuse to answer the questions. There is nothing in US v. Nixon which would suggest that executive privilege protects a president from inquiries into wrongdoing. In fact, the case found that Nixon had to turn over the tapes.

  • Skeptic1
    February 8, 2019 at 10:26 a.m.

    Nadler is joke...let the circus begin.

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