Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker appeared voluntarily before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday to be grilled by both Democrats and Republicans on a number of issues related to the Department of Justice, and it didn’t take long for sparks to fly.
The hearing was contentious before it even started, as Democratic committee chair Jerry Nadler had threatened to subpoena Whitaker in spite of Whitaker’s voluntary agreement to appear. The threatened subpoena was only withdrawn after Whitaker had threatened in return to skip the hearing if it was issued, thus setting the stage for verbal combat once everything got started.
In light of his position as the committee chair, Nadler got first crack at asking Whitaker questions once opening statements had concluded.
Despite the standard five-minute time limit per committee member for questioning, Nadler ran over his allotted time and was shockingly called out for that parliamentary transgression by Whitaker himself.
Nadler had asked a rather specific question about Whitaker’s interactions with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, to which Whitaker flatly replied, “Mr. Chairman, uh, I see that your five minutes is up, so …”
I am shocked…I’ve never seen a witness say this before. pic.twitter.com/96QePMgAYk
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) February 8, 2019
Shocked gasps and laughter were heard from both the audience and members of Congress alike in response to Whitaker’s surprising quip, prior to him adding, “I’m here voluntarily and we’ve agreed to five-minute rounds, and …”
Even a visibly embarrassed Nadler couldn’t help but smile and chuckle for a moment as he held up his hand at the unexpected turnabout, prior to getting back down to the business at hand … badgering the witness with the same questions repeated over and over again.
A longer video clip of the incident revealed that prior to Whitaker’s admittedly snarky outburst at the chairman, the chairman had just finished accusing and badgering him and attributing motive to his actions — a template for questioning from other Democratic members to follow — virtually all of which was in regard to President Donald Trump and the Mueller investigation.
Following Whitaker’s hilarious clapback toward Nadler, the chairman reiterated his question — in between repeated requests from the ranking minority member to re-establish order and time limits — until eventually Whitaker grew incredibly serious and provided a solid answer that should have ended the day’s shenanigans right then and there.
“I want to be very specific about this, Mr. Chairman, because I think it’s going to allay a lot of fears that have existed among this committee, among the legislative branch, largely, and maybe among some American people,” said Whitaker. “We have followed the special counsel regulations to a ‘T.’ There has been no event, no decision, that has required me to take any action, and I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation.”
Nadler accepted that response, admitted that his time had expired and recognized the ranking member, Republican Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, who began his segment of time by calling out his Democratic colleagues for their past and present partisan antics, and said, “This is playing out exactly as we thought.”
Prior to all of that, during his opening statement, Collins had righteously ranted against the entire “charade” that was set to begin in the hearing room, and loudly declared, “This hearing is pointless.”
Whitaker was only an acting AG — likely to be replaced within a week once William Barr was confirmed by the Senate as the permanent new attorney general — and there was no reason for him to be so thoroughly grilled on things he would soon no longer be involved with.
“This is a Department of Justice oversight hearing, supposedly,” said Collins. “Oops! I’m sorry, back to theatrics again. The curtain opened up and we found out what was really going on — no, we wanna damage the president, we wanna talk about your private conversations.”
Calling the whole thing “offensive” and a “travesty,” an outraged Collins added, “If this is the way we’re going to go, then we’ll have plenty of stunts, we’re going to have plenty of theatrics. Bring your popcorn. I’m thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back, because that is what this has become. It is becoming a show.”
“This hearing is pointless,” ranking member Rep. Doug Collins said in his opening statement. “If this is the way we’re going to go, then we’ll have plenty of stunts, we’re going to have plenty of theatrics. Bring your popcorn.” https://t.co/vJgH4lUn2E pic.twitter.com/ONgy3pGZmg
— POLITICO (@politico) February 8, 2019
It was indeed a “show” worthy of popcorn, especially with one of the featured acts unexpectedly ad-libbing a rhetorical grenade toward the Democratic chairman.
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