Acting attorney general: I have 'not interfered' with Mueller investigation

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Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker snapped back on Friday at newly emboldened Democrats in Congress who are pushing for information on the special counsel's Russian Federation probe as they try to put President Donald Trump's administration under greater scrutiny.

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 setup for Whitaker's hearing was fairly typical: Committee members did the asking in five-minute increments. When Nadler gaveled the hearing into a five-minute recess, Whitaker said into an open mic: "Five minutes for lunch?"

The committee chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler of NY, said in a tweet on Thursday night that Whitaker "will appear tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m". So, he tried to ask the same question of Whitaker. When they did ask questions about the investigation, Republicans asked whether it had strayed from the pursuit of possible crimes to targeting individuals, and whether key Justice Department officials were biased in the investigation.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, California Democrat, pressed Mr. Whitaker on his views about Mr. Mueller.

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Whitaker testified that he had not spoken with Trump about Mueller and denied interfering with the investigation.

Democrats pushed Whitaker on whether he was still critical of the special counsel investigation he is now in charge of.

"The time for this administration to postpone accountability is over", Nadler said. Whitaker indicated he would not appear unless Nadler withdrew the subpoena. But in this case the issue may become moot because the Senate is likely to confirm William Barr, Trump's nominee for attorney general, next week.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., tried to adjourn the hearing before it started, saying it was an attempt at assassinating Trump's character. He declined to say if he still agreed with sharply critical comments about the Mueller investigation that he made as a television commentator before arriving at the Justice Department in the fall of 2017 as chief of staff to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Whitaker said that he understood that the issues discussed were important to Cohen and would try to answer the best he could.

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Whitaker, however, did not answer that request, among other questions he avoided.

In his prepared opening statement, Whitaker said he meant to protect executive privilege involving his "deliberations or conversations" with the President, citing "long-standing executive branch policy".

The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was the first, and likely only, chance for newly empowered Democrats in the majority to grill an attorney general they perceive as a Donald Trump loyalist and whose appointment they suspect was aimed at suppressing investigations of the Republican president.

Olivia Beavers, a reporter at The Hill, posted a photo of Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) in shock over Whitaker's response.

In a letter to Nadler on Thursday afternoon, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote that Whitaker is prepared to testify that "at no time did the White House ask for, or did the acting attorney general provide, any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel's investigation".

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Whitaker fired back, "Congressman, I'm not a puppet to repeat what you're saying". Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein oversaw the investigation until Whitaker was appointed after Sessions's resignation.