House Democrats are prepared to subpoena Matthew Whitaker if it appears that the acting attorney general is not forthcoming with his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee Friday, Reuters reports. Whitaker’s upcoming appearance will center around communications he had with the Trump White House and his unwillingness to recuse himself from his role in oversight of the Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Whitaker indicated last month that the investigation is nearing its conclusion and that he has been fully briefed on it.
As a precaution, the committee will meet the day before the scheduled testimony to draft and formalize the subpoena, should Whitaker prove evasive or uncooperative in his responses or fail to appear altogether. This will likely be the last opportunity to address Whitaker before he ends his time as acting attorney general as William Barr, the president’s nominee for the permanent position, is expected to win Senate confirmation shortly.
“To be clear, I hope never to use this subpoena,” said Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the committee. “If he appears on time and ready to answer those questions, the subpoena will be entirely unnecessary.”
Some Republicans quickly criticized the move, blasting the subpoena as politically motivated with bad intentions.
“The majority had enough faith in its witnesses last week not to subpoena them. The key difference today is simply that this witness is part of the Trump Administration—and now we’re setting a dangerous precedent,” said Representative Doug Collins, a Republican from Georgia. “The message to witnesses here is, if you make the time and effort to appear of your own accord, Democrats are going to subpoena you anyway.”
Central to Whitaker’s testimony will likely be questions about negative characterizations he made of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation prior to taking the job as acting attorney general and whether those attitudes warranted his recusal in oversight of the investigation. Justice Department ethics lawyers at the time suggested the recusal, advice which Whitaker declined to take.
As recently as tonight’s State of the Union, President Trump has continued to decry the special counsel investigation, frequently describing it as “a witch hunt” and politically motivated. It is widely understood that Whitaker, a Trump loyalist, was selected for the acting attorney general role at least in part due to his skepticism on the Mueller investigation.
Whitaker often took to Twitter to express his feelings prior to taking on his current role, referring once to a “Mueller lynch mob” and writing at length on Mueller’s investigation going, in his words, too far. His Twitter account is now private.