Acting Attorney General Whitaker faces House Judiciary Committee

Chip Somodevilla  Getty Images North America

Chip Somodevilla Getty Images North America

Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker repeatedly clashed with Democrats in a combative hearing Friday in which he told lawmakers he has not interfered with the special counsel investigation that he oversees.

Committee members are allotted five minutes to ask questions of Whitaker, or any other witness testifying, but those five minutes are monitored by the Chair and can be fluid.

"Mr. Chairman, as I said earlier today in my opening remarks, I do not intend today to talk about my private conversations with the President of the United States, but to answer your question - I have not talked to the president of the United States about the special counsel's investigation", Whitaker told the committee. "There's been no event, no decision that has required me to take any action, and I've not interfered in any way with the special counsel's investigation", he said.

Whitaker would only say as acting attorney general he had to "set the tone for the entire department".

The hearing took place as Trump's nomination of former Attorney General William Barr is making its way through the Senate.

The move threw Whitaker's appearance the next morning into uncertainty.

Whitaker infuriated Democrats by not giving "yes" or "no" answers, referring them to other departments such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and at times challenging their questions. The rules are that you are here, so I need to ask the question and I need to have my time restored so that you can behave appropriately.

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That drew a response from Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the committee. Have you communicated anything you learned in that briefing about the investigation to President Trump?

Nadler and Democrats on Friday, meanwhile, likely also want to ask Whitaker about more than the Russian Federation investigation.

The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was the first, and likely only, chance for newly empowered Democrats in the majority to grill an attorney general they perceive as a Donald Trump loyalist and whose appointment they suspect was aimed at suppressing investigations of the Republican president.

"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.

Since Democrats took control of the House last month, they have launched several congressional inquiries into Mr Trump's business dealings and his actions as president.

"Consistent with longstanding practice, 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 wrote to Nadler. He talks to Anna Maria Tremonti about his time working on Trump's campaign, and having the president's ear.

Before joining the department, Whitaker had publicly criticized special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation in columns and in TV interviews.

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