Acting Attorney General Whitaker battles angry lawmakers at hearing

Whitaker testified that he has not discussed the probe with President Donald Trump nor denied funding for it, as Democrats pressed him on everything from his conversations with the President and other White House officials to his decision not to recuse himself from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. (He said he had not.) Throughout, they scuffled over who was running the place.

In a comment that drew audible gasps and chuckles, Whitaker interrupted questioning from the committee's Democratic chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, by saying, "Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes are up".

He instead pointed to committee protocol restricting the amount of time for each members' question, as he tried to blow off that and another question Nadler asked about his oversight of Mueller's probe. The then-Republican-led committee investigated the matter past year and shut it down before the 116th Congress arrived.

Whitaker accepted the assurances, as evidenced by his Friday appearance. Yet television networks spent the better part of the day airing it live, and some in the GOP anxious privately that Whitaker seemed unprepared at times. The president himself kept an eye on the proceedings as well before leaving the White House for his annual physical.

"We have followed the special counsel regulations to a T", he said.

Even before the hearing, it was a contest about who was in charge.

In a letter, the heads of the House Oversight and Reform, Energy and Commerce, Judiciary and Intelligence committees said new records showed Whitaker did not return money to consumers who had complained about the company's practices.

In his opening statement, Whitaker said that while he would address the committee's questions, he would not reveal details of his communications with the Republican president.

The hearing had been teased a day earlier when Nadler threatened to subpoena Whitaker, while the DOJ threatened to boycott the hearing.

His answers to Democrats' questions often focused on procedure and involved rhetorical wind-ups that ate up precious seconds. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) asked.

Nadler, a bulldog questioner under the Republican majority, piped up.

The hearing had shaped up as potentially the first major confrontation between the new Democratic House majority and the Trump administration. "We don't need a speech". Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the committee's top Republican, called it a "dog and pony show" and criticized Democrats for releasing derogatory information about Whitaker's business dealings hours before the hearing. Whitaker demanded to know the "basis" of the question.

Whitaker also reminded the committee that attorney general nominee William Barr would likely take over his job as attorney general in a week, and scolded lawmakers for not asking him about the Justice Department's work on violent crime, the opioid crisis, religious liberty, and free speech on college campuses. Nadler confirmed that the congressman "controls the time".

For weeks, Democrats on the committee hoped they would get the chance to question Whitaker about his views on Mueller's investigation, any actions Whitaker has taken related to the probe and his decision not to recuse from the investigation after Justice Department ethics officials recommended he do so.

And he had more to say.

"I trust that the members of this committee will respect the confidentiality that is necessary to the proper functioning of the presidency - just as we respect the confidentiality necessary to the legislative branch", Whitaker said.

Vanessa Coleman

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