On Friday afternoon, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the incoming chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, released a statement after speaking with acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker:
This afternoon, acting Attorney General Whitaker committed to appear before the House Judiciary Committee in January at a mutually agreeable date, which we look forward to. In response to our various questions, the acting Attorney General affirmed that he was and will continue to follow all of the regulations, policies and procedures of the Department of Justice, including with regards to the Special Counsel investigation. We look forward to continued conversations in the future.
That sounds like a promise not to fire, interfere with or affect the funding of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. If so, that is good news for those wanting to avoid a constitutional blowup, though it does not alleviate the constitutional question raised by Whitaker’s own appointment, one that went outside the Justice Department line of succession and did not get Senate confirmation.
Nevertheless, this conversation and agreement to appear give the Democrats — who, unlike Republicans, want to conduct real oversight — plenty of time to prepare their questions. Here’s a bunch to get them started:
What is the constitutional basis for your appointment? If your appointment is valid, what is left of the advice and consent process?
Did you consult with the Justice Department’s ethics attorneys on your involvement in the Russia investigation, given your past representation of Sam Clovis and public statements about the investigation? What did they say? Did you recuse in whole or in part? If you didn’t, isn’t there a risk at the very least of the appearance of a conflict of interest?
What directions, if any, were you given about the Mueller investigation from the White House?
Is the investigation lawful and constitutional?
Are you aware of any misconduct by the special counsel? Is there any possible conflict of interest that has not been reviewed and dismissed by Justice Department ethics attorneys?
Do dozens of indictments or pleas and one conviction suggest the investigation is worthwhile?
Is it appropriate for the president of the United States to direct the Justice Department to prosecute a political opponent, or to lay off a political ally?
Is it appropriate for the president of the United States to make an allegation of criminality (bugging Trump Tower) against his predecessor without any factual basis?
As chief of staff to former attorney general Jeff Sessions, did you ever witness attempts by the president to compel Sessions to violate his ethical obligations and take over the Russia investigation? If so, did you report this to anyone?
Can a president obstruct justice by offering to pardon someone in exchange for a “thing of value”? Can a “thing of value” be refusal to provide incriminating information to a prosecutor or to provide inside information about a prosecution?
Can a president obstruct justice by interfering with a Justice Department investigation of himself and/or his family?
Can a president obstruct justice by writing up a false statement to disguise the purpose of a meeting under investigation?
You get the idea. It sort of makes you wonder if Trump is going to leave Whitaker in place until January. On the other hand, any nominee for the “permanent” attorney general slot is going to have to answer most of these questions in a Senate confirmation hearing.