Here's why Trump's acting attorney general is now 'running scared from the law' as Democrats threaten a subpoena

Here's why Trump's acting attorney general is now 'running scared from the law' as Democrats threaten a subpoena
Image credit: Mickelsen, McMahon, Whitaker

In an official statement, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has declared that he will not testify before Congress this Friday, February 8 without a guarantee from Democrats that he will not be subpoenaed.


The House Judiciary Committee, now in Democratic hands, has voted to authorize a subpoena of Whitaker if he refuses to discuss his conversations with President Donald Trump and his oversight of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe before the Committee. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the New York City Democrat who now chairs the Committee, said, “I hope and expect that the subpoena will not be necessary.”

Whitaker, in his official statement, asserted, “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.”

Trump appointed Whitaker in November after firing former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Many Democrats have been expressing strong reservations about Whitaker, describing him as a Trump loyalist and noting how critical he has been of Mueller’s Russia investigation. And Whitaker accused Democrats of resorting to “political theater” in his statement.

“Political theater is not the purpose of an oversight hearing,” Whitaker declared, “and I will not allow that to be the case.”

Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd also took exception to the threat of a subpoena. In a letter to the House Judiciary Committee, Boyd stated, “The acting attorney general looks forward to testifying about the programs, policies and activities of the Department…. However, we seek a written assurance from your office that the Committee will not issue a subpoena to the acting attorney general on or before February 8, and that the Committee will engage in good-faith negotiations with the Department before issuing such a subpoena.”

Boyd added, “We would regard the service of a subpoena today or tomorrow to be a breach of our prior agreement that the acting attorney general would testify voluntarily on February 8, consistent with the established practices by which executive officials traditionally appear before the Committee.”

Nadler has stressed that when Whitaker appears before Congress, he expects him to answer all questions “without equivocation.”

Whitaker’s time as U.S. attorney general is only temporary. Trump has nominated William Barr to fill the position permanently, and he will more than likely be confirmed by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate. In the early 1990s, Barr served as attorney general under a previous GOP president: the late George H.W. Bush—and he was easily confirmed by the Senate even though it was controlled by Democrats at the time.

In response to Whitaker's refusal, former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal commented:

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