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House Dems to acting AG: Have you shared Mueller information with Trump, legal team?

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 1/23/2019 Kelly Cohen
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House Democrats want to know if acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has ever shared information he learned in possible briefings about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation with President Trump or his lawyers.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., shared the question, along with a handful of others, in a letter to Whitaker sent Tuesday. The advance questions from the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is so that Whitaker will be allowed to tell the panel if he is invoking executive privilege and abstaining from answering certain questions lawmakers have.

Nadler said that “short of a direct and appropriate invocation of executive privilege, I will expect you to answer these questions fully and to the best of your knowledge,” adding later, “I would view with considerable skepticism any effort to decline to answer on the basis that the inquiry is related to an ongoing criminal investigation.

"Please take any steps that may be necessary for the White House to consider these communications and for the President to determine whether he will invoke executive privilege," Nadler wrote.

The questions given to Whitaker “relate to whether there has been interference with the special counsel’s work,” he said, and “do not relate to the underlying substance of the investigation.”

Whitaker is scheduled to appear before the committee on Feb. 8 — his first congressional testimony since Trump appointed him after ousting former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in November.

Whitaker is the first Trump administration official to testify before House committees — which are all now controlled by Democrats.

Nadler will also ask Whitaker about his December announcement that he would not recuse himself from oversight of Mueller’s investigation — something that Sessions did and eventually led to his firing by Trump. Specifically, Nadler wants to know if he had any communication with Trump or any White House official about recusal before he even took on the position as acting attorney general.

Whitaker rejected the advice of a Justice Department ethics official to recuse himself from oversight of the special counsel's investigation and assumed the role. However, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's office is still managing the investigation on a day-to-day basis.

Nadler also wants to know if the president has reacted to the guilty plea of Michael Cohen, his former lawyer, to him. Trump reportedly “lashed out” at Whitaker after the guilty plea, Nadler notes, and wants to know if Whitaker has “taken any action” as a result.

Whitaker will be pressed on if Trump expressed “concern, anger, or similar frustration” at the Southern District of New York, which prosecuted Cohen for a handful of bank crimes connected to the president.

“I intend to ask you about these conversations with the White House because I believe that the independence of the Department has been placed at risk,” wrote Nadler, calling Whitaker’s testimony “vital" to the committee's oversight of both Mueller's probe and the Justice Department as a whole.

Whitaker will be acting attorney general until William Barr, who has served in the role before and was nominated by Trump in December, is confirmed. Barr had his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee and emerged mostly unscathed earlier this month, though no vote to pass him to the full chamber for a vote has yet to be scheduled.

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