Matt Whitaker to Eric Swalwell: 'I am not your puppet'

Lauren Victoria Burke  FR132934 AP

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said today he has "not interfered in any way" in the special counsel's Russian Federation investigation as he faced a contentious and partisan congressional hearing in his waning days on the job.

Whitaker's prepared testimony covered a range of Justice Department accomplishments, along with his intent not to discuss issues covered by executive privilege.

Whitaker's highly anticipated testimony Friday had been in limbo after the Democratic-led committee approved a tentative subpoena to ensure that he appeared and answered questions.

Whitaker, who had been appointed last November by President Trump after Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned under pressure, threatened not testify before the committee if he was subpoenaed. More particularly, Democrats were prepared to home in on the independence of the Justice Department and special counsel Robert Mueller from White House interference and improper political considerations.

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.

Just after the Senate panel voted on Barr, Whitaker fired off the letter letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler.

Democrats repeatedly accused Whitaker of running out the clock by giving them evasive or rambling answers in the hearing.

"Although I can not speak about my communications with the president, I do want to make clear that I am personally committed to the integrity of the Department of Justice", Whitaker wrote. He noted that he did not enforce the five-minute rule during Whitaker's opening statement, then asked him to "answer the question, please".

More news: Schiff Reopens Intel Panel Probe into Russia-Trump, Gives Mueller Docs

Despite Whitaker's clear answer, Jackson Lee complained she wanted a yes or no answer, but Nadler indicated to her that the questions was answered, so she moved on.

"I am aware of that, and it was deeply concerning to me as to how CNN found out about that", Whitaker said.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., tried to adjourn the hearing before it started, saying it was an attempt at character assassination of Trump.

In a statement on Thursday night, Kerri Kupec, a Whitaker spokeswoman, said that the acting attorney general had been assured that Nadler would not issue a subpoena "on or before February 8". Some Democrats consider Mr. Whitaker's appointment to be illegitimate'.

Though clearly exasperated - he drew gasps and chuckles when he told the committee chairman that his five-minute time limit for questions was up - Whitaker nonetheless sought to assuage Democratic concerns by insisting he had never discussed the Mueller probe with Trump or other White House officials, and that there'd been no change in its "overall management". The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted, along party lines, to advance Barr's nomination to the full Senate for confirmation.

Former Republican governor Chris Christie has known U.S. President Donald Trump for 17 years, but says the advice he's offered hasn't always been heeded. "But, to answer your questions, I have not talked to the president about the special counsel's investigation".

Nadler then said his time was expired and recognized Collins to begin his questioning. He also has longstanding ties to Sam Clovis, the Trump campaign's national co-chairman in the 2016 election who said Mueller had questioned him; in 2014, he chaired Clovis' campaign for Iowa State Treasurer.

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