Matt Whitaker says he hasn't discussed Mueller probe with Trump

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Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is testifying before the House Judiciary Committee for the first time Friday. Most notable was his non-answer to the following question posed by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee: "Prior to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' firing, did you discuss or share your private opinion of the special counsel's investigation with [then-Chief of Staff John Kelly], Trump family members, and others?"

"A subpoena should only follow a breakdown of the accommodation process and as a last resort against persons seeking to frustrate legitimate oversight on this committee", said Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the committee's top Republican.

The comment came during a testy opening exchange between Whitaker and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler during a dramatic faceoff at the Capitol.

Whitaker has been undertaking significant preparations ahead of the hearing, including conducting briefings with every DOJ component and participating in several mock hearings, according to the officials.

Whitaker: "Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up".

"I trust that the Members of this Committee will respect the confidentiality that is necessary to the proper functioning of the Presidency - just as we respect the confidentiality necessary to the Legislative Branch", Whitaker said.

"Similarly, Nadler prepared to subpoena Whitaker in case Whitaker refused to answer any of the questions", Mariotti continued. We have agreed to five-minute rounds, ' said Whitaker, the only one in the room who appeared unaware that committee chairmen can bend the rules almost at will.

It seems likely that Congress is going to have many witnesses from the administration testifying about questions that are similarly uncomfortable-and equally likely that many of these witnesses will invoke the shield of executive privilege to avoid answering such questions.

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"Can you say right now, "Mr. President, Bob Mueller is honest and not conflicted"?" asked Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.

But Whitaker then warned he would not show up unless lawmakers dropped the threat.

But Nadler, who a day earlier had threatened to subpoena Mr Whitaker to ensure his appearance, left no doubt about his party's focus. William Barr, Trump's nominee to be his permanent Attorney General, is on track to be confirmed by the full Senate next week.

Amid a heated back-and-forth, Nadler asked, "In your capacity as acting attorney general, have you ever been asked to approve any request or action to be taken by the special counsel?" When Whitaker tried to respond, the New York Democrat interrupted: "Mr Whitaker, that was a statement, not a question". "Have you communicated any information in that briefing to President Trump?"

Mariotti then explained that if Mueller or the Southern District of NY want to know what Trump has told Whitaker, those conversations aren't going to be privileged.

Nadler then said his time was expired and recognized Collins to begin his questioning.

The blogger said the Democrats on the committee "are trying to redirect nearly every topic back to the Russian Federation investigation, and Whitaker has repeatedly said that he wouldn't answer questions about his private conversations with the president".

Whitaker, in his opening remarks, said he hasn't given the White House any assurances about Mueller's probe, and the White House has not asked him to do so.