National Security

Judiciary chair asks committee to authorize subpoena ahead of Whitaker’s planned testimony

The head of the House Judiciary Committee is scheduling a markup of acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker’s subpoena ahead of his slated appearance on Capitol Hill, saying the preemptive move is out of an “abundance of caution.”

The decision by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) signifies the new Democratic majority’s aggressiveness to be a check on the Trump administration, particularly by further pressuring top officials to testify before Congress. {mosads}

“In an abundance of caution — to ensure that Mr. Whitaker both appears in the hearing room on Friday morning and answers our questions cleanly — I have asked the Committee to authorize me to issue a subpoena to compel his testimony,” Nadler said in a statement on Tuesday.

“For the first two years of the Trump Administration, Congress allowed government witnesses to dodge uncomfortable questions. That era is over,” he continued.

Nadler noted that the subpoena “will be entirely unnecessary” if Whitaker appears Friday morning as scheduled.

“There need not be surprises here. We have been quite public about our intention to obtain this information from Mr. Whitaker,” the New York lawmaker concluded.

The strategic move also calls further public attention to the high-profile hearing in which Whitaker will appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday morning.

The top Republican on the panel blasted the move Tuesday, asking when the committee started hitting witnesses with orders who offered to come in voluntarily.

“The majority had enough faith in its witnesses last week not to subpoena them. The key difference today is simply that this witness is part of the Trump Administration—and now we’re setting a dangerous precedent,” ranking member Doug Collins (R-Ga.) said in a statement. “The message to witnesses here is, if you make the time and effort to appear of your own accord, Democrats are going to subpoena you anyway.”

Lawmakers reached a deal with Whitaker last month in which he agreed to testify regardless of whether the partial government shutdown was still ongoing and regardless of whether he was still the Justice Department’s interim top cop.

The Judiciary chairman has also taken other measures to prevent Whitaker from avoiding answering particular questions when he appears before the committee by sending him a series of questions in advance.

Nadler in a letter late last month said he should consult with the White House in advance on those questions because the committee “will not accept your declining to answer any question on the theory that the President may want to invoke his privileges in the future.” 

The questions centered on the possible contacts Whitaker has had with President Trump about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference, whether he had conversations with the president or others about assuming his current role ahead of Trump firing then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in early November and whether he relayed briefings on the Russia probe to those in the Trump administration.

Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney from Iowa, has faced immense scrutiny for being a Trump loyalist, with Democrats and some Republicans viewing him as a potential threat to the federal investigation that is examining Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election and whether there are any ties between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

Updated at 2:44 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump Doug Collins Jeff Sessions Matt Whitaker Robert Mueller
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