Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker appeared before the House Judiciary Committee last week, and by any sensible measure, he did not do well. Former FBI Assistant Director Frank Figliuzzi told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace after the hearing, “I am not kidding when I say I have interviewed terrorists who were more cooperative and respectful than Matt Whitaker was today. I say that with sadness.”
It’s possible, of course, that the controversial Republican didn’t much care what the Judiciary Committee’s members thought of his responses. The Atlantic’s Natasha Bertrand wrote a good piece the other day making the case that Whitaker’s principal concern may have been what Donald Trump thought of his testimony: the acting A.G. will soon need a job, so he may have treated the hearing as an audition.
If so, that may have been unwise. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Whitaker yesterday, encouraging him to “clarify” his testimony. From the correspondence:
“Although the Committee appreciates your decision to appear, Members on both sides of the aisle found many of your answers to be unsatisfactory, incomplete, or contradicted by other evidence. You repeatedly refused to offer clear responses regarding your communications with the White House, and you were inconsistent in your application of the Department’s policy related to the discussion of ongoing investigations.”
As Rachel noted on the show last night, it was Nadler’s “contradicted by other evidence” phrase that stood out. “The implication here is that Matt Whitaker may have made false statements to the committee while he was testifying under oath,” Rachel explained.
What’s more, the Judiciary Committee chairman’s letter went in a specific direction.
During last week’s hearing, Whitaker fielded questions about whether he spoke to the president about Michael Cohen and the case against him. The acting A.G. said he had no conversations with the White House about the matter.
It led Nadler to note in his letter, “[T]he 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.”
As best as I can tell, the Justice Department has not yet responded to the congressional outreach, and it’s possible Whitaker will try to run out the clock on his tenure. After all, the Senate will almost certainly confirm William Barr as the new attorney general today, which means Whitaker will exit the Justice Department quite soon.
Once Whitaker is no longer the acting attorney general, will he try to use that as an excuse to evade the House Judiciary Committee’s questions?