Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has denied claims that he is attempting to interfere with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election collusion. As USA Today reports, Whitaker made this denial on Friday during his hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.
“I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation,” he said.
Whitaker stepped into the role of acting attorney general last year after Jeff Sessions’ resignation. Sessions and Trump had clashed over his decision to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia probe. Sessions endorsed Trump in 2016 during his presidential campaign, and there is a Department of Justice rule which states that their officials cannot investigate campaigns that they participated in. Despite Trump’s obvious displeasure, Sessions stuck to his decision until the president allegedly asked him to resign.
Whitaker’s past statements about the Mueller investigation have led to speculation that he could use his new position to undermine it.
In a 2017 op-ed for CNN, he wrote that the probe was encroaching on a “red line” by expanding its scope to Donald Trump’s finances.
“This information is deeply concerning to me,” he wrote. “It does not take a lawyer or even a former federal prosecutor like myself to conclude that investigating Donald Trump’s finances or his family’s finances falls completely outside of the realm of his 2016 campaign and allegations that the campaign coordinated with the Russian government or anyone else.”
There were a couple of tense moments during the hearing as legislators grilled Whitaker about his performance as acting AG as it relates to the investigations encircling the Trump administration.
At one point committee chairman Representative Jerrold Nadler asked Whitaker whether he had ever been asked to approve actions taken by the special counsel.
Whitaker started his response by asserting that Nadler’s five minutes of question time had expired. He then reminded the chairman that he had agreed to attend the hearing voluntarily on the basis that he would be questioned in five-minute intervals.
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker tells House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler "I see that your five minutes is up" when asked if President Trump ever requested that Whitaker take action against special counsel Robert Mueller. https://t.co/2nySmKwaK3 pic.twitter.com/imwkvIn3ic— CNN (@CNN) February 8, 2019
According to USA Today, Whitaker later said that he had never spoken to the president about Robert Mueller and that he had not had conversations about the Russia investigation with senior White House officials. But he also told the committee that he would not disclose details about his conversations with Trump. Nadler responded by informing him that his refusal to divulge the particulars of those conversations would not prevent the committee from seeking answers “in the long run.”
Matthew Whitaker’s stay as acting attorney general looks like it will come to an end soon. As Time Magazine reports, the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved Trump’s pick for the role, William Barr. The nomination will next be put up for a vote in front of the full Senate and it is expected to pass.