House Democrats are investigating acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to determine if he has ever improperly shared information about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation with President Trump or his lawyers.
In his position as acting Attorney General Whitaker has learned sensitive information about the investigation by participating in Justice Department briefings. Democrats believe that this put him in a position to serve as a “mole” spying on Mueller for the benefit of the president.
House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, (D-N.Y.), wrote a letter to Whitaker that was sent yesterday, in which he addressed these questions. Reportedly Nadler wanted Whitaker to have advance notice of the questions the House Judiciary Committee wants to ask so that he can consider if he will invoke executive privilege and refuse to answer certain questions the committee will have for him.
In his letter Nadler wrote:
“Short of a direct and appropriate invocation of executive privilege, I will expect you to answer these questions fully and to the best of your knowledge. I would view with considerable skepticism any effort to decline to answer on the basis that the inquiry is related to an ongoing criminal investigation.”
“Please take any steps that may be necessary for the White House to consider these communications and for the President to determine whether he will invoke executive privilege.”
The questions Nadler gave to Whitaker “relate to whether there has been interference with the special counsel’s work,” the chairman said, and “do not relate to the underlying substance of the investigation.”
The acting Attorney General is scheduled to appear before the Nadler’s committee on February 8. This will be his first testimony before a congressional committee since he was appointed to his current position after Trump fired former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in November.
Whitaker will also be the first Trump administration official to testify before a House committee since Democrats took control on January 3.
Nadler said he also plans to ask Whitaker about his December announcement that he would not recuse himself from oversight of the Mueller investigation. This announcement caused a great deal of concern among House Democrats.
Sessions did recuse himself, causing Trump to blame him for the Mueller probe. This eventually led to his firing by the president.
Nadler said he also wants to know if Whitaker has had any communication of any kind with Trump or any other White House official about recusal. He’s especially interested in discussions about recusal that took place before Whitaker was appointed by Trump to the position of acting Attorney General.
In refusing to recuse himself, Whitaker rejected the advice of a Justice Department ethics official. This puts him in position to have oversight of the special counsel‘s investigation, which he had previously criticized.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s office, however, is still involved with the management of the special counsel’s investigation on a day-to-day basis.
Nadler also said that he wants to know if Trump has reacted to the guilty plea of Michael Cohen, his former lawyer, to him. Trump reportedly “lashed out” at Whitaker after the guilty plea, Nadler noted, and he wants to know if Whitaker has “taken any action” as a result.
Whitaker will also be asked if Trump expressed “concern, anger, or similar frustration” at the Southern District of New York, which prosecuted Cohen for a series of financial crimes connected to the president.
“I intend to ask you about these conversations with the White House because I believe that the independence of the Department has been placed at risk,” wrote Nadler, calling Whitaker’s testimony “vital” to the committee’s oversight of both Mueller‘s investigation and the Justice Department.
Whitaker will serve in his current position until a permanent Attorney General is confirmed. William Barr was nominated by Trump in December and it is expected that he will confirmed by the Senate within a few weeks. No vote to confirm Barr has yet to be scheduled on the floor of the Senate, leaving Whitaker in charge for now.
There is no question that Donald Trump appointed Matthew Whitaker to his current position because he thought Whitaker would take orders and work for him instead of for the American people. If this has happened, it is fairly certain that Jerry Nadler will get to the bottom of it and bring to public light whatever dark secrets Matthew Whitaker has.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.