Acting AG Whitaker Can’t Avoid Congress Much Longer

On Wednesday, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler sent a letter to Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker telling him he must testify before the committee by January 29. Nadler has said he is preparing a subpoena should Whitaker and Justice Department officials continue stalling.

American Oversight has been investigating Whitaker’s ethics recusals and conflicts of interest since his post-election elevation from former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff to his current place at the top of the DOJ. Prior to his tenure at the department, Whitaker had been publicly critical of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and he has decided to ignore the advice of senior DOJ ethics officials that he should recuse himself from involvement in the investigation, which he is currently overseeing.

Nadler’s letter states that the committee will likely have many questions related to Whitaker’s supervision of the special counsel investigation. American Oversight has requested the communications of the team of political advisers who recommended that Whitaker reject ethics advice and assume oversight of the investigation — and if Whitaker refuses to answer questions from Congress, we’ll be able to go to court to force transparency.

Nadler also references a November 2018 phone call with Whitaker, in which he committed to testifying in January. With the partial government shutdown now approaching the three-week mark, Whitaker has proposed that a hearing to take place in February or two weeks out from the end of the shutdown. As Nadler points out, using the shutdown as an excuse for a delay is contrary to two 1995 determinations by the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel that department officials may provide testimony even during funding lapses.

Whitaker’s delays appear to be an effort to avoid appearing in front of Congress until after the confirmation of President Trump’s attorney general nominee William Barr, who has also previously stated his opposition to the special counsel probe. On Thursday, Senate Republicans insisted that Barr would not impede the investigation, but watchdog groups like American Oversight still have concerns about his impartiality. In December, American Oversight requested information about DOJ determinations of whether Barr would be allowed to be involved in overseeing the Mueller investigation, and asked for records from his previous tenure as attorney general related to the Iran-Contra scandal.