House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) sent a letter Wednesday to Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker following up on his dramatic and contentious testimony — and came close to accusing him of lying to Congress, which is a federal crime.
Whitaker doesn’t have much time left in his role, given that William Barr is expected to soon be confirmed as attorney general by the Senate. But when the Judiciary Committee invited him to testify in a hearing last week, they grilled him, particularly over his involvement in investigations touching on President Donald Trump. Whitaker’s placement at the top of Justice Department was regarded by many of the president’s critics as deeply suspicious, given his past criticisms of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Trump’s anger at former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing from the Russia investigation, and the decision to circumvent the DOJ’s usual line of succession; many feared Whitaker’s task was to protect the president from legitimate legal scrutiny.
During the hearing, lawmakers probed Whitaker about to the extent to which he had communicated with the president about the investigations into him and his allies. Whitaker was evasive and obfuscatory, but he specifically denied receiving an angry call from the president about the guilty plea of his former lawyer Michael Cohen.
Nadler was found this answer troubling, writing in the letter:
Your testimony on this topic is directly contradicted by several media reports. The President’s personal attorney responded to those reports with an acknowledgment that “[t]he President and his lawyer are upset about the professional prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.” Moreover, the Committee has identified several individuals with direct knowledge of the phone calls you denied receiving from the White House. As a result, we require your clarification on this point without delay.
Nadler characterized many of Whitaker’s answers during his testimony as “unsatisfactory, incomplete, or contradicted by other evidence.” He is asking Whitaker to meet so they can “clarify” these answers — and if he refuses, the committee will “pursue a date and time for a formal deposition.”
Even if Whitaker isn’t attorney general anymore in a few days, he may still have to answer to Congress.