Whitaker says he won't testify unless Dems withdraw subpoena threat

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is threatening to not testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday after Democrats on the panel voted to authorize the use of a subpoena against him if he did not attend or refused to answer certain questions.

Whitaker said in a statement Thursday that the Democratic-led panel "has deviated from historic practice and protocol and taken the unnecessary and premature step of authorizing a subpoena to the me [sic], the acting attorney general, even though I had agreed to voluntarily appear."

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"Such unprecedented action breaches our prior agreement and circumvents the constitutionally required accommodation process. Based upon today’s action, it is apparent that the Committee’s true intention is not to discuss the great work of the Department of Justice, but to create a public spectacle. Political theater is not the purpose of an oversight hearing, and I will not allow that to be the case," he said.

"Consistent with longstanding practice, I remain willing to appear to testify tomorrow, provided that the Chairman assures me that the Committee will not issue a subpoena today or tomorrow, and that the Committee will engage in good faith negotiations before taking such a step down the road.”

Whitaker gave Democrats a deadline of 6 p.m. Thursday to respond about their threat to subpoena him.

The statement came hours after the Judiciary Committee voted 23-13 along party lines to authorize a subpoena for Whitaker if he did not appear before the panel or declined to answer certain questions.

Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) argued the vote on authorizing a subpoena was necessary in order to ensure that the top Justice Department official showed up and didn't rely on executive privilege to decline to answer particular questions.

“When we invite officials to testify before this committee, they have to appear. When we ask them questions, they have to provide us with answers, or provide us with a valid and clearly articulated reason to withhold certain information,” Nadler said at a business meeting Thursday morning.

“Without the threat of a subpoena, I believe it may be difficult to hold Mr. Whitaker to this standard.”

Democrats are eager to press Whitaker on whether he has sought to influence special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation and whether he in turn provided that information to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ MORE. They are also eager to press the interim top cop on his decision not to recuse himself from overseeing the probe, Democratic lawmakers told The hill.

The preemptive move to authorize a subpoena signals how Democrats will aggressively pursue testimony from Trump administration officials.

“It is not meant to prevent him from invoking executive privilege, it is forcing him to make a choice: Either he invokes the privilege or he has to answer the question,” said Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuDem lawmakers to open probe into ‘complex web of relationships’ between NRA, Russia Kamala Harris shopping trip stirs Twitter campaign trail debate Newsom endorses Kamala Harris for president MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary panel.

“He can’t do what numerous administration witnesses did last term, [where] they would say, ‘The White House might want to invoke this at some point in the future, therefore I am not answering the question.’ He cannot do that,” Lieu told The Hill.

 
"In a quest to score political points against the president, they authorized a preemptive subpoena, treating a voluntary witness as hostile," he said in a statement.

Updated at 1:39 p.m.