Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker said Thursday that he would not show up at a House Judiciary hearing at which he had previously voluntarily agreed to testify unless the committee assured him that it will not subpoena him at the hearing or before it. The committee has laid the groundwork to issue Whitaker a subpoena at the hearing if did not answer certain questions, including about his communications with the White House regarding special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.
“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 in a statement.
It came not long after the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of a resolution authorizing Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) to subpoena Whitaker. Nadler at the hearing said he hoped he wouldn’t have to use the subpoena and that he wouldn’t issue it if Whitaker answered questions previously previewed for him in a letter.
Whitaker is giving the committee until 6 p.m. Thursday to assure him he won’t be subpoenaed at Friday’s hearing.
The move escalates the tensions around what was already expected to be a confrontational hearing with major implications for Justice Department independence and for Democrats’ ability to conduct oversight of the Trump administration more broadly.
Whitaker accused the committee of deviating from “historic practice and protocol” and said that “[s]uch unprecedented action breaches our prior agreement and circumvents the constitutionally required accommodation process.”
“Based upon today’s action, it is apparent that the Committee’s true intention is not to discuss the great work of the Department of Justice, but to create a public spectacle. Political theater is not the purpose of an oversight hearing, and I will not allow that to be the case,” Whitaker said in the statement.
Nadler, in his letter to Whitaker last month outlining the questions that were planned for Friday’s hearing, asked Whitaker to tell him by Wednesday morning if the White House would invoke executive privilege on any of the topics. Whitaker did not meet that deadline.
The questions mainly have to do with Whitaker’s communications with President Trump and the White House about Mueller’s probe and other DOJ investigations with links to Trump.
In addition to the statement, the Justice Department sent a letter from assistant attorney general Stephen Boyd, the DOJ’s legislative liaison, to Nadler. The letter took issue with the committee’s interest in Whitaker’s conversations with the President and said that the questions “seek the kind of information that the Executive Branch has, during administrations of both parties, historically declined to provide to the Congress.”
Boyd said that the Department “strongly objected” to Nadler’s request that Whitaker ask that the White House invoke executive privilege ahead of his testimony.
His letter said that instead, Whitaker would “do his best” to answer the committee’s questions in a way that is “consistent with the need to protect communications that are potentially subject to executive privilege.”
According to Boyd’s letter, Whitaker is prepared to testify that “at no time did the White House ask for, or did the Acting Attorney General provide, any promises or commitments concerning the Special Counsel’s investigation.”
Boyd said the Justice Department has complied with the special counsel regulations with regards to Mueller’s probe and that Whitaker is prepared to testify that there has been “no change” in how the DOJ has worked with Mueller’s office.
Whitaker is also prepared to testify about the ethics review that ended with his decision not to recuse from oversight of Mueller’s probe.
Read Whitaker’s full statement and the DOJ letter below:
Weeks ago, in good faith, I voluntarily agreed to appear and testify on February 8 before the House Judiciary Committee. We have devoted considerable resources and numerous hours to my preparation, and I have looked forward to discussing the important work of the great men and women of the Department of Justice. Unfortunately, the Committee now has deviated from historic practice and protocol and taken the unnecessary and premature step of authorizing a subpoena to the me, the Acting Attorney General, even though I had agreed to voluntarily appear. Such unprecedented action breaches our prior agreement and circumvents the constitutionally required accommodation process. Based upon today’s action, it is apparent that the Committee’s true intention is not to discuss the great work of the Department of Justice, but to create a public spectacle. Political theater is not the purpose of an oversight hearing, and I will not allow that to be the case.
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.”