Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker testifies
Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said he doesn’t believe Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker’s assurances that he didn’t talk to President Trump about special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.
Cohen told CNN he thinks Whitaker is lying. (Remember: Lying to Congress is a crime.)
When pressed on the claim, Cohen had no evidence to contradict Whitaker. Yet he thinks Whitaker broke the law.
During the hearing, Cohen pressed Whitaker on whether he think the Mueller investigation is a "witch hunt." President Trump has repeatedly called the probe a "witch hunt."
Whitaker did not answer the question. He however did say he has not denied funds to Mueller and his team.
Former Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California who decided to retire in the 2016 election, said she has never seen a witness "display the type of arrogance & contempt for democracy" that Acting Attorney General Matt Whittaker did in his testimony today.
Boxer served in the US House before she was elected to the Senate.
Here's her tweet from this morning:
Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker explained why he thinks President Trump selected him for the top Justice role, highlighting his past experience as a prosecutor and his proximity to former attorney general Jeff Sessions that would let him “continue the momentum at the Department of Justice we had established in addressing these important priority issues, like reducing violent crime, combatting the opioid crisis, and others.”
Whitaker earlier said that he had no reason to doubt Trump’s contention in an interview last year that he was unaware of Whitaker’s past public hostility to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
Whitaker also said he had no direct conversations about the Mueller investigation with anyone at the White House in the immediate months before he was selected as Sessions’ chief of staff in 2017.
Read his full remarks:
“I believe the President chose me to be the acting attorney general for a couple reasons. First, I had served previously in the department as a united states attorney, which is a very important position... in the administration of justice.
And for 13 months I was the chief of staff for attorney general Sessions and I have done the full year with him side by side, obviously he made the decisions but I gave him advice and counsel and I was aware of everything that was going on at the Department of Justice that obviously Sessions wasn’t recused from.
And so I think the President was comfortable that to continue the momentum at the Department of Justice we had established in addressing these important priority issues, like reducing violent crime, combatting the opioid crisis and others that the President felt I was best positioned to do the duties of attorney general."
Republican Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona asked acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker whether he had discussed with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein the reports that Rosenstein had wanted to secretly record President Trump.
"This is a critical issue," Biggs said. "With all due respect, this has nothing to do with an ongoing investigation. What it has got to do with is Mr. Rosenstein in his role as an unbiased overseer of the Mueller investigation. It deals with his capacity to be unbiased."
In September 2018, reports emerged that Rosenstein had discussed wearing a "wire" to record conversations with Trump and recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.
Whitaker declined to answer, saying, “I’m not here to answer questions about the internal” talks within the Justice Department.
"This is an important question to you, but I'm not going to answer my conversations with Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. I believe that they're deliberative," Whitaker said.
Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Georgia, asked Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker about his decision not to recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation — a decision that went against the advice of a Justice Department ethics official.
"I'd like to take a moment to better understand your decision not to recuse yourself from the supervision of the special counsel's investigation. Isn't it a fact, sir, that you received your final ethics guidance on this matter on December 19, 2018?" Johnson asked.
Whitaker did not answer the question and instead said this:
"Congressman, we laid out very explicitly the process that we went through, and ultimately the decision whether or not to recuse was my decision. I'm very comfortable with that decision."
Committee chairman Jerry Nadler stepped in and called Whitaker out for not answering questions directly. He said it's "getting a little tiresome hearing you stall and wasting the member's time."
Republican Congressman Jim Jordan pressed Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker on a memo that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein sent to special counsel Robert Mueller about the scope of his investigation.
In a contentious exchange, Jordan asked Whitaker if Rosenstein gave "the special counsel the authority to investigate specific Americans."
"I would just refer the Congressman to the general practices of the Department of Justice that we investigate crimes and not individual," Whitaker said.
Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee, got into a heated exchange with Matt Whitaker, in which he asked the acting attorney general if special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is a "witch hunt."
Whitaker, who is overseeing the special counsel, did not answer the question. President Trump has repeatedly called the probe a witch hunt.
Whitaker however did say he has not denied funds to Mueller and his team
Here's how the full exchange went down:
Cohen: "Would you say the special counsel's investigation is a witch hunt? Are you overseeing a witch hunt?"
Whitaker: "Congressman, as I've mentioned previously, the special counsel's investigation is an ongoing investigation, and so I think it would be inappropriate for me to..."
Cohen: "But you wouldn't oversee a witch hunt, would you? You'd stop a witch hunt, wouldn't you?"
Whitaker: "Congressman, it would be inappropriate for me to talk about an ongoing investigation."
Cohen: "You said you were not interfering with the special counsel's investigation. Have you denied him any funds he's requested at all?
Whitaker: "Congressman, I can tell this is an important issue for you..."
Cohen: "It's an important issue for the American public and for the whole world.
Whitaker: "Congressman, to answer your question directly, I have not denied any funds to the special counsel's investigation."
Watch the exchange here:
Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries told CNN that he thought Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker has been acting like "a petulant child."
“We’ll see whether he’s going to be respectful of the fact that Congress has a separate and coequal branch of government and we have an oversight responsibility or whether he’ll continue to keep acting like a petulant child," the New York lawmaker said.
Whitaker is currently testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. You can watch the hearing in the video player at the top of this page.
Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker has dodged some of the House Judiciary Committee's questions, citing confidentiality and executive privilege -- but the committee may have a second chance to grill him on those questions.
After Whitaker declined to answer whether he has discussed special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation to any third parties, committee Chairman Jerry Nadler warned that the committee would require more concrete answers in a separate closed-door deposition.
"After today's hearing, we'll attempt to reach an accommodation with the Department to obtain answers to these questions. As part of that process, I ask for your commitment to return for a deposition before this committee in the coming weeks, under oath, with an understanding that the transcript will be released to the public as soon as practicable therefore," Nadler said.
"Any questions that are unanswered today or that require consultation with the white house will be asked again at that proceeding, and I expect either a clean answer or a proper assertion of privilege claimed by the president."