The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has summoned acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker back to the Hill to explain what the chairman said were inconsistent statements made during an open hearing last week.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday said he wants Whitaker to clarify “unsatisfactory, incomplete” answers in two areas involving special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and related matters.
One is whether Whitaker discussed his views on Mueller’s investigation with the White House before he went to work for the Justice Department in 2017. The other is whether President Trump or any White House official expressed displeasure with him in the wake of the November guilty plea by Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen to charges of lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow.
“You repeatedly refused to offer clear responses regarding your communications with the White House, and you were inconsistent in your application of the department’s policy related to the discussion of ongoing investigations,” Nadler said in a letter to Whitaker.
Whitaker, who is likely to leave the job this week with the expected confirmation of William P. Barr as attorney general, sparred for hours with the committee’s Democrats, often exasperating them with his refusal to detail his conversations with the president. He told the committee that he had not influenced Mueller’s inquiry in any way and had not spoken to Trump about the investigation since his appointment.
Whitaker’s short tenure has been clouded by controversy over his decision not to recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation despite having been outspoken in his criticism of the inquiry before working at the department. He served as then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s chief of staff beginning in September 2017 and was appointed to the top job in November of last year.
Whitaker testified that he had not spoken to any White House official about his views of the Mueller inquiry as a private citizen. Whitaker also said that he spoke to officials while interviewing for a job as a White House lawyer managing the response to the investigation. “You . . . claimed, somewhat incredulously, that you never mentioned your ‘opinions about the Mueller investigation’ ” during those discussions, Nadler wrote.
Citing news reports, lawmakers last week asked Whitaker if the president or anyone on his behalf had expressed dissatisfaction to him about Cohen’s guilty plea. Whitaker responded “no,” Nadler noted. Whitaker also declined to say whether he had spoken to Trump at all about the Cohen case.
“Your testimony on this topic is directly contradicted by several media reports,” Nadler wrote. “Moreover, the committee has identified several individuals with direct knowledge of the phone calls you denied receiving from the White House.”
Nadler suggested if Whitaker did not appear voluntarily, he would follow up with a subpoena for a formal deposition.