Whitaker says panel must drop subpoena threat
Washington – Acting Attorney general Matthew Whitaker says he won’t appear before a House committee unless the panel drops its threat of subpoenaing him.
Whitaker said in a statement Thursday that the House Judiciary Committee is trying “to create a public spectacle” by authorizing a tentative subpoena for his testimony even though he had already agreed to appear voluntarily.
Whitaker is scheduled to testify Friday.
He is likely in his final days on the job given that the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved the nomination of William Barr as acting attorney general. That nomination next goes to the full Senate.
The House Judiciary Committee approved a tentative subpoena for Whitaker in an effort to ensure he appears at a hearing Friday and answers questions.
The vote Thursday doesn’t issue a subpoena to Whitaker but allows House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler to do so if Whitaker is uncooperative. Nadler said he hopes not to have to use the subpoena, but “a series of troubling events over the past few months suggest that we should be prepared.”
Nadler said that as late as last week the committee had received reports that some at the department were counseling Whitaker not to appear.
Democrats have said they want to talk to Whitaker because he is a close ally of Trump and has criticized special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, which he oversees.
Nadler noted that previous Trump administration officials, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have declined to answer questions about conversations with the White House during testimony, saying that the president might want to claim executive privilege on those conversations in the future. Nadler said that is “ridiculous” and administration officials must provide the committee with answers or a better excuse to withhold them.
“Without the threat of a subpoena, I believe it may be difficult to hold Mr. Whitaker to this standard,” Nadler said.
Nadler said he sent Whitaker a letter asking him to notify the committee if he planned to assert such executive privilege, but Whitaker never responded.
Justice Department officials say Whitaker has been preparing for weeks for the hearing, including reviewing multiple binders of materials and participating in mock hearings. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the preparation process, said Whitaker has always indicated that he wants to appear.
Thursday’s vote fell along party lines. Republicans strongly opposed the measure, saying it was unnecessary because Whitaker was appearing voluntarily.
“This subpoena is nothing short of political theater, choreographed by the chairman and starring the acting attorney general as some mythological protector of secrets,” said Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the panel. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Associated Press Writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.