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The Latest: Whitaker won’t answer ‘witch hunt’ question

February 8, 2019
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Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker appears before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, in Washington. Whitaker insisted on Friday that he has not "interfered in any way" in the special counsel's Russia investigation as he faced a contentious and partisan congressional hearing in his waning days on the job. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker’s appearance before a House committee (all times local):

12:40 p.m.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has declined to answer a question about whether special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is a “witch hunt.”

President Donald Trump has repeatedly called the Russia probe a “witch hunt.” Asked by Democratic Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen on Friday if he also thought it was, Whitaker declined to answer, citing the ongoing investigation.

Asked by Cohen if he would stop a “witch hunt,” Whitaker said it would be “inappropriate” to answer that question. Whitaker oversees the Mueller probe.

Trump’s permanent pick for attorney general, William Barr, has said he does not believe Mueller would be involved in a “witch hunt.”

Democrats are eager to press acting Whitaker during his first testimony to Congress on his interactions with Trump and his oversight of the special counsel’s Russia investigation.

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10:20 a.m.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker says he has “not interfered in any way” in the special counsel’s Russia investigation.

Whitaker also says he has not talked to President Donald Trump or senior White House officials about the investigation.

The acting attorney general made the comments Friday during a contentious hearing of the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee.

Whitaker has been supervising special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation after rejecting the advice of career ethics officials to step aside out of an abundance of caution.

The testimony comes as Whitaker is likely winding down his tenure leading the Justice Department.

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10:05 a.m.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler says he wants to ask Acting Attorney General Matthew Whittaker why he wouldn’t recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Nadler also wants to know why President Donald Trump left Whitaker in his acting position for so long after Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pushed out. Trump waited a month to nominate William Barr to the permanent position after Whitaker took over.

Nadler asked on Friday what Trump hoped to get out of appointing him and what Whitaker provided to Trump, a question the top Republican on the committee, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, called “offensive.”

Democrats said they would not use a subpoena they had authorized in case Whitaker doesn’t answer questions. But Nadler said they would get answers “in the long run.”

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10 a.m.

The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee says a hearing with acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is a “dog and pony show.”

Georgia Republican Rep. Doug Collins says the Friday hearing is such a political show that he’s “thinking maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back.”

Collins says the hearing was especially pointless because a new attorney general could be voted in at the Justice Department as soon as next week.

He ended his opening remarks with a motion to adjourn the hearing. That motion was defeated.

Democrats are eager to press Whitaker on his interactions with President Donald Trump and his oversight of the special counsel’s Russia investigation.

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9:55 a.m.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker will tell lawmakers that there has been no change in the “overall management” of the special counsel’s Russia investigation.

That’s according to Whitaker’s prepared remarks released as he arrived on Capitol Hill to testify before the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee on Friday.

Whitaker also will say that he had run the Justice Department to the best of his ability, with “fidelity to the law and to the Constitution.”

Whitaker has been supervising special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation after rejecting the advice of career ethics officials to step aside out of an abundance of caution.

The testimony comes as Whitaker is likely winding down his tenure leading the Justice Department with the almost certain confirmation of Attorney General nominee William Barr in the coming weeks.

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1:55 a.m.

Democrats are eager to press acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, during his first testimony to Congress, on his interactions with President Donald Trump and his oversight of the special counsel’s Russia investigation.

Whitaker’s testimony Friday was in limbo after the House Judiciary Committee approved a tentative subpoena to ensure he appeared.

The stalemate ended Thursday evening after the committee chairman said the committee wouldn’t issue a subpoena if Whitaker came voluntarily.

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