Whi­taker to Con­gress: I haven’t med­dled with Mueller’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion ‘in any way’

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY JEFF MORDOCK

Act­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Matthew G. Whi­taker shot down a num­ber of the more wild spec­u­la­tions that have plagued him since his ten­ure at the Jus­tice Depart­ment be­gan more than three months ago.

Ac­cused of be­ing a plant by Pres­i­dent Trump to squelch the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, he told Con­gress he hasn’t med­dled at all.

“We have fol­lowed the spe­cial coun­sel’s reg­u­la­tions to a T,” Mr. Whi­taker told the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee dur­ing six hours of tes­ti­mony. “There has been no de­ci­sion that has re­quired me to take any ac­tion, and I have not in­ter­fered with spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion in any way.”

He also as­sured law­mak­ers that he had not dis­cussed the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion with Mr. Trump or with se­nior White House of­fi­cials since helm­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

Democrats and their al­lies have ques­tioned why Mr. Trump bucked the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s tra­di­tional line of suc­ces­sion, which would have made Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein the clear pick to act as at­tor­ney gen­eral af­ter Mr. Trump ousted Jeff Ses­sions in Novem­ber.

Mr. Whi­taker, though, said he was cho­sen be­cause of his in­volve­ment in car­ry­ing out key Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pri­or­i­ties at the Jus­tice Depart­ment dur­ing the 13 months he served as Mr. Ses­sions’ chief of staff.

“I think the pres­i­dent was com­fort­able to con­tinue the mo­men­tum at the Depart­ment of Jus­tice we had es­tab­lished in ad­dress­ing these im­por­tant pri­or­ity is­sues, like re­duc­ing vi­o­lent crime, the opi­oid is­sue that he felt I was do­ing the du­ties of the at­tor­ney gen­eral,” he said.

The hear­ing was la­beled an over­sight hear­ing, called os­ten­si­bly to get a sense for Jus­tice Depart­ment op­er­a­tions.

In­stead the new Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity fo­cused on Mr. Whi­taker him­self, ask­ing about his per­sonal han­dling of var­i­ous matters, and delv­ing into his time be­fore the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

Sev­eral Democrats prod­ded Mr. Whi­taker about a non-profit ad­vo­cacy group he ran, the Foun­da­tion for Ac­count­abil­ity and Civic Trust.

Rep. Eric Swal­well, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, asked whether the group re­ceived for­eign dona­tions. Mr. Whi­taker said he didn’t know.

Rep. Karen Bass, another Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, wanted to know whether Mr. Whi­taker was over­see­ing any in­ves­ti­ga­tions that FACT had called for. The act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral said he would be re­cused from any such probes.

Rep. Doug Collins of Ge­or­gia, the rank­ing Repub­li­can on the com­mit­tee, said the ques­tions had lit­tle to do with Jus­tice Depart­ment op­er­a­tions, and said they seemed more like a con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing. He also called that odd be­cause a new per­ma­nent at­tor­ney gen­eral is likely to be con­firmed by the end of this week.

Wil­liam P. Barr cleared his com­mit­tee vote last Thurs­day and is slated for a con­fir­ma­tion vote in the full Sen­ate by Fri­day.

Mr. Whi­taker, in his tes­ti­mony, took ex­cep­tion to sev­eral spe­cific news re­ports he said had bun­gled his ac­tions.

One, a Novem­ber 2018 New York Times re­port, said Mr. Whi­taker in 2017 had in­ter­viewed to join Mr. Trump’s le­gal team as an “at­tack dog” against spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller. If picked, that po­si­tion would have pit­ted him against the Jus­tice Depart­ment he now leads.

Mr. Whi­taker con­firmed Fri­day that he did dis­cuss a po­si­tion with then-White House Coun­sel Don­ald McGahn’s chief of staff, but re­ports of him as an at­tack dog were overblown. He said they only dis­cussed his le­gal back­ground and never spoke about Mr. Mueller.

“They did not want to talk about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­cause the folks were deal­ing with that in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and that’s why they wanted some­one who had been un­re­lated to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and the cam­paign,” Mr. Whi­taker said.

Democrats said they found Mr. Whi­taker’s an­swers ei­ther eva­sive or un­per­sua­sive.

“Your fail­ure to re­spond fully to our ques­tions here to­day in no way lim­its the abil­ity of this com­mit­tee to get an­swers in the long run, even if you are a pri­vate cit­i­zen when we fi­nally learn the truth,” warned Rep. Jer­rold Nadler, New York Demo­crat and the panel chair­man.


“We have fol­lowed the spe­cial coun­sel’s reg­u­la­tions to a T,” said act­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral G. Matthew Whi­taker to the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

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