Judiciary Dems demand Whitaker testify, say shutdown isn't a valid excuse

The Democratic leader of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker on Wednesday demanding he testify before the panel.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said it was unacceptable that Whitaker had asked to delay his testimony until mid-February as a result of the ongoing government shutdown.

“I cannot accept your proposal,” Nadler said. “We are willing to work with you to identify a mutually identifiable date for your testimony, but we will not allow that date to slip past January 29, 2019 – the day of the President's scheduled address to Congress, when we know you will be in Washington.”

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Nadler, who has assumed control of the powerful Judiciary Committee now that Democrats control the House, noted that it has been more than a year since then-Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Martin, Bobby and the will to change Overnight Health Care: Thousands more migrant children may have been separated | Senate rejects bill to permanently ban federal funds for abortion | Women's March to lobby for 'Medicare for All' MORE testified before the committee. Sessions resigned at President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump claims media 'smeared' students involved in encounter with Native American man Al Sharpton criticizes Trump’s ‘secret’ visit to MLK monument Gillibrand cites spirituality in 2020 fight against Trump’s ‘dark’ values MORE’s request following the midterm elections in November, and Trump tapped Whitaker to replace him in an acting capacity.

Whitaker has been subject to significant scrutiny as a result of past statements he has made criticizing special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into Russian interference in the election and potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Trump has fervently and publicly attacked the Mueller investigation, accusing the special counsel of leading a partisan “witch hunt” in search of a crime. Trump has also claimed the investigation to be illegal. Some of Trump’s critics have worried that Whitaker could look to thwart the investigation in some way as a result of his powers at the Justice Department.

Some have demanded that Whitaker recuse himself from the Russia investigation, which has been overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinBarr’s first task as AG: Look at former FBI leaders’ conduct 5 myths about William Barr William Barr's only 'flaw' is that he was nominated by Trump MORE on a day-to-day basis. Reports emerged last month that Whitaker had disregarded the advice of an ethics official that he step aside from the probe.

Whitaker previously committed to testifying before the Judiciary Committee sometime in January, but, according to Nadler’s letter, sought to delay his appearance until the department is “two weeks removed” from the partial government shutdown that began in December. The Justice Department and other federal agencies have had scores of employees furloughed as a result of the lapse in appropriations.

But the Democratic congressman rejected that proposal, saying the committee would “require” his testimony at some point this month.

“I expect that Members will have a number of questions relating to your personal tenure at the Department of Justice,” Nadler wrote. “The public is entitled to know why you chose to disregard the advice of career ethics officials at the Department with respect to your oversight of the Special Counsel.”

Nadler wrote that the committee would like to question Whitaker on the “impact” of Trump’s “near-daily statements” attacking the Mueller investigation, the Justice Department and the FBI.

The top Democrat also said the committee would grill Whitaker on a range of legislative proposals involving the Justice Department that cover issues such as voting rights, immigration and foreign influence.

He also said the committee would question Whitaker on various actions by the department, including its decision against defending portions of the Affordable Care Act and other efforts that Democrats believe could weaken federal civil rights protections.

Nadler also signaled the lawmakers would question Whitaker on “several apparently false statements” that Trump and other administration officials have made about national security threats at the southern border. 

The Justice Department did not immediately return a request for comment on the letter. 

Updated at 2:18 p.m.