WASHINGTON ― Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker refused on Friday to tell Congress about his conversations with President Donald Trump that involved special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
But the Trump loyalist told the House judiciary committee he had “not interfered in any way” with the probe, which Trump has repeatedly branded a “witch hunt.”
Whitaker ― who criticized the Mueller investigation before joining the Justice Department ― was named as acting attorney general following November’s forced resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who clashed with Trump because his recusal from the Russia investigation led to Mueller’s appointment. Whitaker ignored the advice of Justice Department career ethics officials, who suggested that he also recuse himself from the Mueller probe because of the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Whitaker, in his opening statement, told judiciary committee members that he “cannot speak” about his communications with Trump.
“I want to assure you that I will seek to answer the committee’s questions today, as best as I can, but I also must make clear that I will continue the longstanding Executive Branch policy and practice of not disclosing information that may be subject to executive privilege, such as the contents of deliberations or conversations with the president,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker’s opening statement came after a dramatic start to the hearing in which Republicans called for a vote to adjourn before Whitaker’s testimony even began. The question of whether Whitaker would appear at all Friday morning had been up in the air for most of Thursday, as the Justice Department sought assurances from the committee that Whitaker would not face a subpoena if he showed up voluntarily.
William Barr, whom Trump nominated to take over the position of attorney general on a permanent basis, is expected to be confirmed by the Senate next week. It’s unclear whether Whitaker will then take on a new role in the Justice Department or move back to the private sector.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.