Matt Whitaker tries bailing on congressional testimony after Democrats threaten subpoena

WASHINGTON ― Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is trying to back out of his scheduled Friday testimony before the House Judiciary Committee after the committee voted to subpoena him if he refuses to answer questions about conversations he had with President Donald Trump and invokes executive privilege.

In a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote that Whitaker would not testify unless the committee assures the Justice Department by 6 p.m. that it will not issue a subpoena for Whitaker today or tomorrow, and that the committee would engage in “good faith negotiations” with DOJ before issuing a subpoena.

This letter comes after several weeks of negotiations between the Justice Department and the Judiciary Committee, and Whitaker is set to testify voluntarily on Friday about a number of topics. House Democrats plan to press him on his conversations with Trump about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

If Whitaker does testify, the letter said, he would say “at no time did the White House ask for, or did the Acting Attorney General provide, any promises or commitments concerning the Special Counsel’s investigation.”

RELATED: Deputy AG Rosenstein and FBI director Christopher Wray testify in front of house Republicans

24 PHOTOS
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray testify in front of House Republicans
See Gallery
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray testify in front of House Republicans
FBI Director Christopher Wray (L) and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein chat before a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
FBI Director Christopher Wray arrives at the West Wing of the White House for a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on FBI investigations into the 2016 Trump presidential campaign at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
FBI Director Christopher Wray waits to testify before a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
FBI Director Christopher Wray waits to testify before a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein waits to testify before a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
FBI Director Christopher Wray (L) shakes hands with House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) before the committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
FBI Director Christopher Wray (L) and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein take seats before a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
FBI Director Christopher Wray (L) and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are sworn in before a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
FBI Director Christopher Wray is sworn in before a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (R) with FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (R) with FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (L) listens to FBI Director Christopher Wray during a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
FBI Director Christopher Wray (L) and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testify before a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (R) and FBI Director Christopher Wray testify before a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) speaks during FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testimony before the committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
FBI Director Christopher Wray (L) and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein leave for a break during a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) questions FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein during a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
FBI Director Christopher Wray takes a seat before a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein arrives at a House Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
FBI Director Christopher Wray (L) and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testify before a congressional House Judiciary Committee hearing on 'Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election,' in Washington, DC, on June 28 2018. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 28: U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (R) and FBI Director Christopher Wray (L) testify during a House Judiciary Committee hearing June 28, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on oversight of FBI and DOJ actions surrounding the 2016 election. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 28: FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee June 28, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. While scheduled to discuss the Justice Department Inspector general report released this month on the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, Republicans were expected to use the opportunity to press for release of documents subpoenaed by the committee that detail FBI actions in 2016. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
FBI Director Christopher Wray (L) and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testify before a congressional House Judiciary Committee hearing on 'Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election,' in Washington, DC, on June 28 2018. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 28: Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) (L), and Jim Jordan (R-OH) listen to FBI Director Christopher Wray U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testify during a House Judiciary Committee hearing June 28, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on oversight of FBI and DOJ actions surrounding the 2016 election. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

A senior Justice Department official, speaking on background, told reporters Thursday afternoon that Whitaker had been “working hard” this week to prepare for his testimony, but that he wasn’t going to testify under threat of subpoena on Friday.

“It’s not the appropriate process... to subpoena first, talk later,” the senior official said. Whitaker, the official said, is “ready and willing to appear” under the original terms.

Whitaker, who headed up a conservative organization that targeted Democrats and critiqued the Mueller investigation in cable news hits before joining the Justice Department, was named acting attorney general following the forced resignation of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in November. Whitaker previously served as a U.S. attorney during the Bush administration but was not serving in a Senate-confirmed Justice Department role when he was named acting attorney general, making his lengthy term as head of DOJ historically unprecedented

The Justice Department issued this statement from Whitaker:

“Weeks ago, in good faith, I voluntarily agreed to appear and testify on February 8 before the House Judiciary Committee. We have devoted considerable resources and numerous hours to my preparation, and I have looked forward to discussing the important work of the great men and women of the Department of Justice. Unfortunately, the Committee now has deviated from historic practice and protocol and taken the unnecessary and premature step of authorizing a subpoena to the me, the Acting Attorney General, even though I had agreed to voluntarily appear.  Such unprecedented action breaches our prior agreement and circumvents the constitutionally required accommodation process. Based upon today’s action, it is apparent that the Committee’s true intention is not to discuss the great work of the Department of Justice, but to create a public spectacle. Political theater is not the purpose of an oversight hearing, and I will not allow that to be the case.

The news came out around the same time as William Barr, President Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He’s expected to be confirmed by the full Republican-controlled Senate in the near future.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
Read Full Story