Matthew Whitaker Faced Grilling on Capitol Hill

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D., Texas) got into a confrontation with acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker during a hearing Friday, demanding he not "joke" with her questions.

Though clearly exasperated - he drew gasps and chuckles when he told the committee chairman that his five-minute time limit for questions was up - Whitaker nonetheless sought to assuage Democratic concerns by insisting he had never discussed the Mueller probe with Trump or other White House officials, and that there'd been no change in its "overall management".

"Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up", Whitaker said, in a bold challenge to the head of the committee. "We have agreed to five-minute rounds".

Nadler reminded Whitaker that the committee had submitted questions relating to the special counsel investigation and was waiting on answers. So, he tried to ask the same question of Whitaker.

The remark drew gasps in the hearing room, where committee chairmen hold huge power, including over who asks the questions and for how long.

"In your final week, keep your hands off the Mueller investigation", House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) warned.

Whitaker testified that he had not spoken with Trump about Mueller and denied interfering with the investigation.

But Whitaker's appointment has always been a test for how Democrats will use their newfound majority to flex their oversight muscles.

"It is our understanding that at least one briefing occurred between your decision not to recuse yourself on December 19 and six days later, Christmas Day", Nadler said. Whitaker indicated he would not appear unless Nadler withdrew the subpoena. Next week, the Senate will vote on the nomination of William Barr as attorney general.

Republicans on Friday backed Whitaker, with ranking member Doug Collins, R-Ga., calling on the committee to adjourn - although a vote to do so did not pass.

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"Mr. Whitaker, you don't run this committee", said Raskin.

Nadler made clear early Thursday that he did not want to have to subpoena Whitaker, but said a "series of troubling events" suggested it would be better for him to be prepared with that authority, just in case he decided not to show up for the hearing.

In his prepared opening statement, Whitaker said he meant to protect executive privilege involving his "deliberations or conversations" with the President, citing "long-standing executive branch policy".

"There are a whole list of questions we don't know the answers to about", he said.

Nadler and three other House committee chairmen released documents that they said show Whitaker failed to return thousands of dollars that were supposed to be distributed to victims of a company's alleged fraud.

"I can assure this committee that before appointing me to this position, the president did not ask for and I did not provide any promises beforehand", Whitaker answered.

Cohen said the inspector general of the General Services Administration - which manages government buildings - issued a "rather scathing report" about the government's decision to lease the Old Post Office, located on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, to the Trump Organization.

"Did Rod Rosenstein direct Robert Mueller to target specific Americans?" he wondered.

Whitaker has come under scrutiny for his involvement with the invention promotion company, which was accused of misleading consumers and has been under investigation by the FBI.

"I am not your puppet, to repeat what you are saying", Mr. Whitaker responded. Collins said Friday the Democrats' move was part of a "character assassination".

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