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Matt Whitaker to Eric Swalwell: 'I am not your puppet'

10 February 2019

Democrats spent much of the hearing grilling Whitaker on why he did not recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel investigation when he was appointed acting attorney general, what conversations he had with the president about the investigation, and whether his opposition to the special counsel before he took the job played a role in his appointment.

Asked whether he had ever been asked to approve any request or action by the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, Whitaker refused to answer.

"Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up".

"Your failure to respond fully to our questions here today in no way limits the ability of this Committee to get the answers in the long run - even if you are a private citizen when we finally learn the truth", Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler reminded Whitaker in his opening statement.

The House hearing almost derailed on Thursday when Democrats on the panel voted to authorize Nadler to issue a subpoena to compel Whitaker to appear and answer questions.

Mr Trump fired his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in November 2018. Trump has repeatedly referred to the Russian Federation investigation as a "witch hunt".

Trump's nominee for attorney general, William Barr, is expected to face a Senate confirmation vote next week.

The tone of the hearing had been teased on Thursday when Nadler threatened to subpoena Whitaker, while the DOJ threatened to boycott the hearing.

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Whitaker testified following a lengthy fight with Nadler over the prospect that he would be subpoenaed for not answering questions. When the congresswoman turned back to Whitaker, he hesitated and said, "I'm sorry, what was your- I don't know if your time's been restored or not", prompting some laughter from the room. I ask the department to work with the committee to provide them.

"Consistent with longstanding practice, 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 wrote to Nadler.

On social media, critics expressed shock at Whitaker's conduct, with some asserting that his rebuke of Nadler-like Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's angry testimony before a Senate committee in September-was likely for President Donald Trump's benefit.

Whitaker said that he does not recall discussing the briefing with any other individuals and said that members of his team are generally instructed not to share information on investigations.

The Acting Attorney General also told the Chairman he will be invoking executive privilege if asked about any conversations with President Trump.

"It's becoming a show", said the Republican congressman Doug Collins, of Georgia, who accused his Democratic colleagues of "character assassination". He also signaled that he would give limited answers about the investigation itself.

Whitaker responded that he had been told by ethics officials that "the decision was mine to make based on the regulations of the Department of Justice, and I made that decision and I stand by that decision".

Since Democrats took control of the House last month, they have launched several congressional inquiries into Mr Trump's business dealings and his actions as president.

Matt Whitaker to Eric Swalwell: 'I am not your puppet'