Matthew Whitaker threatens not to testify unless Dems drop subpoena threat

By Grace Segers

/ CBS News

Whitaker: Russia investigation wrapping up

Paula Reid contributed reporting

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is giving House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler until 6 p.m. to drop a subpoena threat to force him to answer committee questions at a Friday hearing. The committee voted Thursday to authorize Nadler to subpoena Whitaker, although Nadler said in a statement that he hoped "never to use" it.

Should Whitaker refuse to appear, Nadler could subpoena him, and the fight over his appearance might then extend until after Attorney General nominee William Barr is confirmed. Whitaker's team argues this is a matter of precedent, and the chairman should not be allowed to hold a draft subpoena over Whitaker's head throughout a hearing.

Whitaker issued a statement Thursday saying he had agreed to testify "in good faith" and found the threat of subpoena would turn the hearing into "a public spectacle." Whitaker said the Justice Department had devoted "considerable resources and numerous hours to my preparation" for his testimony.

"Unfortunately, the Committee now has deviated from historic practice and protocol and taken the unnecessary and premature step of authorizing a subpoena to the me, the Acting Attorney General, even though I had agreed to voluntarily appear," Whitaker said in the statement. "Such unprecedented action breaches our prior agreement and circumvents the constitutionally required accommodation process."

Whitaker added that "political theater is not the purpose of an oversight hearing."

"I remain willing to appear to testify tomorrow, provided that the Chairman assures me that the Committee will not issue a subpoena today or tomorrow, and that the Committee will engage in good faith negotiations before taking such a step down the road," Whitaker said.

Nadler said in his statement that the committee granted him with subpoena power to show that with Democrats in power, Congress would no longer allow "government witnesses to dodge uncomfortable questions."

"Weeks ago, we gave Mr. Whitaker a list of questions we hope to ask him about his communications with the White House and his refusal to recuse himself from oversight of the Special Counsel's investigation. If he appears on time and ready to answer those questions, the subpoena will be entirely unnecessary," Nadler said.

In previous hearings, government officials have used executive privilege to avoid answering certain questions from committee members.

First published on February 7, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Grace Segers

Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.

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