Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said Thursday he won't appear before Congress unless a House committee drops its threat of a subpoena for his testimony, calling the Democratic-led move an act of "political theater".
"The chairman has made the commitment that we requested, and agreed that, if Mr. Whitaker voluntarily appears at tomorrow's hearing, the committee will not issue a subpoena on or before February 8", spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement.
The two sides continued discussions throughout the evening and eventually, according to Justice Department officials, Nadler agreed that no subpoena would be issued Thursday or Friday.
Whitaker stood by his prior statement, saying, "I have answered your question as to what I believe about the special counsel".
"I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel investigation", Whitaker told the committee. Nadler said he hoped not to have to use the subpoena, but "a series of troubling events over the past few months suggest that we should be prepared".
He asked Whitaker about the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrest of Roger Stone, the political operative who has longtime ties to Trump.More news: Measles Outbreak Sends Vaccine Demand Soaring, Even Among The Hesitant
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After Jackson Lee repeated her question to Whitaker, she quickly looked around and asked to confirm her time had been restored, interrupting the attorney general as he began to answer.
Democrats have said they want to talk to Whitaker because he is a close ally of Trump who has criticized Mueller's Russian Federation investigation, which he oversees. Whitaker knows this, which is why he hedged his bets that he could evade certain questions and ultimately get away with it. Democrats in Congress know too that to push him with a subpoena could land them in a lengthy court battle which might not wind up going their way (or if it does, might be too late to have a meaningful impact). "The question that this committee must now ask is: Why?"
Collins added: "A subpoena should only follow the breakdown of an accommodation process, and as a last resort against persons seeking to frustrate the legitimate oversight of this committee".
"Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up", Whitaker said, in a bold challenge to the head of the committee.
A senior Justice Department official told CNN that the bottom line is that the Department is not aware of any precedent for the authorization of a subpoena before questioning.
Nadler then said he would ask Whitaker to come back to give a deposition under oath and answer the questions he was unwilling to answer Friday, prompting a snarky response from the former Iowa federal prosecutor that drew laughs from the audience. "I will behave appropriately as a member of the Judiciary Committee".
However, Boyd added, Whitaker can not divulge details of his confidential discussions with Trump because certain communications are "vital to a president's ability to discharge the responsibilities of his office". He asked Whitaker to consult with the White House ahead of the hearing and tell the committee whether he would invoke privilege.