BY: TANNER KENNEY
On February 8th, 2019, Acting Attorney General (AG) Matthew Whitaker testified during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing led by Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and fielded questions regarding a bevy of topics including, but not limited to, his business endeavors prior to becoming the Chief of Staff for former AG Jeff Sessions, the interviews conducted before assuming the position of Acting AG, along with his relationship with President Donald Trump and his Administration. During the hearing, Democrats also targeted his official actions whist in-office colored by the statements he made prior to his return to the public sector.
The hearing took place after a tense negotiating period between Chairman Nadler and Acting AG Whitaker after the former received prior approval from the Judiciary Committee to issue a subpoena for the latter’s public, in-person testimony. When DOJ officials and Whitaker, himself, balked at the prospect of being compelled to testify, an amicable compromise was reached wherein unsatisfactory responses could be addressed via follow-up questions submitted in writing to the DOJ, possibly under subpoena should the Chair feel it is necessary. The pair clashed frequently during the day-long hearing, but remained professional, unlike the testy back-and-forths between Democrats and their GOP colleagues.
Questions to Whitaker from Democratic Judiciary Committee members were markedly pointed towards the Administration and its official actions since Donald Trump assumed the Presidency, numerous lines of which were met with admonishment from Republican Committee Members such as Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) who decried the meeting as a sideshow and demanded to know why President Obama-era officials, such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Attorney General Eric Holder did, not face such intense scrutiny from the Committee. Topics prodded by Democratic Representatives included the Emoluments Clause lawsuit filed against President Trump and the Trump Organization, Federal Elections Committee violations, abortion, LBGQT rights, among various others.
Throughout his appearance, Acting AG Whitaker offered strong support of Special Counsel Robert Mueller III and his investigation into American election interference. He stated that Mueller is a highly respected individual within the justice community, but offered no other assurances than he has not interfered in the investigation. Additionally, Whitaker provided neither the assurance of a public Mueller Report nor a timeline for the Investigation’s culmination– “Bob Mueller is going to finish his investigation when he wants to finish his investigation.” Of the additional Democratic lines of questioning, none was more popular than the events and reasons for which Matthew Whitaker rose to become Acting Attorney General of the United States.
Department of Justice guidelines dictate the line-of-succession for individuals to assume leadership positions following the resignation, firing, death, or incapacitation of a senior official. As such, Dep. AG Rod Rosenstein should have been next-in-line to head the Department but was passed-over by President Trump for Whitaker. This came shortly after Whitaker made public statements to CNN and other outlets as a private citizen disparaging the Special Counsel’s Investigation and questioning its scope with the allegedly-cloaked intention of auditioning for his current role. While these opinions were offered as a private citizen, Democratic members of the committee argued that they served as a reassurance he would protect Trump form the probe.
Whitaker was also questioned by Democratic members of the Committee on a variety of subjects whilst their Republican counterparts such as Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) who spent large majorities of their 5-minute question periods lamenting that the hearing had become a ‘dog-and-pony show.’ Moreover, throughout Whitaker’s testimony, numerous GOP Committee members were not present due to floor votes, prior commitments, or other undisclosed reasons, resulting in numerous failed appeals to Chairman Nadler.
Lastly, Acting AG Whitaker’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee could not have come at a more prescient time as Special Counsel Mueller’s Investigation barrels forward, collecting indictments, cooperators, pleas, and favorable verdicts along the way. Following last week’s hearings, democrats like Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) have called on Whitaker to clarify his testimony. The Investigation has now grown to such an extent that, even during televised hearings, new and important information begins to break such as the potential for additional charges against President Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, as well as the revocation of a cooperation deal with American Media Inc. related to hush-money payments that ran afoul of campaign finance laws.
Tanner Kenney is an energy and media professional with a background in journalism and received his M.S. in Global Affairs, Environment & Energy Policy from NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. Recently, Tanner has focused on the advocacy of sustainable development through renewable energy technologies, transportation efficiency, and inclusive public policy.
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