Whitaker, After Clash With U.S. House Panel, Agrees to Appear
(Bloomberg) -- Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has agreed to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday, defusing at least for the moment a charged partisan debate over threats to subpoena him.
The committee chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, said in a tweet on Thursday night that Whitaker “will appear tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m.”
It was the culmination of a day that began when the House panel voted to authorize a subpoena of Whitaker because its Democratic members want to ask him about his conversations with President Donald Trump and his oversight of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Whitaker balked at the subpoena threat until Nadler took a more conciliatory stance.
But in another sign the hearing will be acrimonious, Democrats released a letter Friday morning asking Whitaker about his involvement in a company accused by regulators of scamming consumers out of millions of dollars, saying records indicate he failed to return money that would have been distributed to victims.
Whitaker sat on an advisory board of World Patent Marketing, which the Federal Trade Commission won a court order against to halt an invention-promotion scheme that the agency said falsely promised to patent and market people’s inventions for fees.
On Thursday evening, Nadler resolved the stalemate over the subpoena, telling Whitaker: “To the extent that you believe you are unable to fully respond to any specific question, we are prepared to handle your concerns on a case-by-case basis, both during and after tomorrow’s hearing.”
In a statement on Thursday night, Kerri Kupec, a Whitaker spokeswoman, said that the acting attorney general had been assured that Nadler would not issue a subpoena “on or before Feb. 8.”
“In light of that commitment, Acting Attorney General Whitaker looks forward to voluntarily appearing at tomorrow’s hearing and discussing the great work of the Department of Justice,” Kupec said.
Still, the White House denounced Nadler’s moves.
“The fact Chairman Nadler would try to force the public disclosure of private conversations that he knows are protected by law proves he only wants to play politics,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “The chairman should focus on helping the American people, rather than wasting time playing pointless political games.”
After the Judiciary panel voted along party lines to authorize a subpoena, Whitaker responded that he wouldn’t appear unless that threat was lifted.
“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,” Whitaker said in a statement. “Political theater is not the purpose of an oversight hearing, and I will not allow that to be the case.”
It would be the first known subpoena since Democrats took control of the House.
Normally, a subpoena like the one threatened by Nadler would open a prolonged dispute over congressional and executive powers that could end up in the courts. But in this case the issue may become moot because the Senate is likely to confirm William Barr, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, next week.
The truce between Nadler and Whitaker may prove temporary.
In a letter to Nadler on Thursday afternoon, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote that 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.”
But Boyd said the Justice Department doesn’t believe that the committee may “legitimately expect the acting attorney general to discuss his communications with the president.” He stopped short of asserting executive privilege, the contention that a president needs to be able to rely on confidential counsel from his advisers.
Last year, Democrats and Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee said they would seek to hold former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt for his refusal to answer questions in closed-door testimony for its probe into Russian election interference. They never pursued that action.
The dispute over Whitaker comes as Democrats leading other House panels also stepped up investigations of Trump and those around him, despite the president’s warning in his State of the Union address on Tuesday that the nation’s “economic miracle” could be stopped by “ridiculous partisan investigations.” He’s also called it “presidential harassment.”
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