House Democrats want Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to answer questions about his role overseeing the Mueller investigation, especially given Whitaker's very public stance in opposition to the probe. But Justice Department officials have been putting off scheduling the appearance.
Whitaker had initially committed to Democratic leaders that he’d give testimony in January to the House Judiciary Committee. But those plans have since stalled, with Justice Department officials citing the ongoing government shutdown and Whitaker’s busy travel schedule as reasons for pushing back the hearing, the sources said.
Justice Department officials asked for a delay of the hearing until mid- or late February, telling the Democrats that they’d been short-staffed because of the government shutdown that started Dec. 22, as well as Whitaker’s travel out of Washington.
A shift in the hearing timeline could ultimately make Whitaker’s testimony less relevant if President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as attorney general, William Barr, is already confirmed by the Senate by then. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold two days of confirmation hearings for Barr on Jan. 15 and 16.
If confirmed, Barr is expected to take over from Whitaker as the lead supervisor of Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election.
Democrats upset about the Justice Department’s delay with Whitaker have been considering a subpoena to force his appearance, figuring they will have only a limited window to ask questions about why he got the job, how he decided against a recusal from overseeing the Mueller probe and any moves he has made involving the investigation.
For now, Democrats plan to make a potential Whitaker subpoena their main item of discussion when the Judiciary Committee holds its organizational meeting for the new Congress. That session could come later this week once the congressional leadership announces which lawmakers will be seated on the powerful panel, which has jurisdiction over the Justice Department and would be the primary venue for any impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Congressional Republicans clearly have no interesting in hauling Whitaker to Capitol Hill.
... [S]ome ... Republican lawmakers have raised concerns that Whitaker could be an embarrassment for the party should he appear, and have signaled they’d prefer that he stay away.
A defense attorney working with a client in the Russia investigation said Whitaker would be in for a rough time if he were to appear before the House panel.
“They’ll have some fun with him, but he’s a short-timer,” the lawyer said.
Citing the department’s “skeletal staff,” a Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment when asked Monday about Whitaker’s plans for appearing before the House panel.
DOJ delaying Whitaker testimony before House (Politico)