Matthew Whitaker refuses to talk about conversations with Trump on Mueller probe

WASHINGTON ― Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker refused on Friday to tell Congress about his conversations with President Donald Trump that involved special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. 

Whitaker ― who had criticized the Mueller investigation before joining the Justice Department ― was named as acting attorney general following November’s forced resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who clashed with Trump because his recusal from the Russia investigation led to Mueller’s appointment. Whitaker ignored the advice of Justice Department career ethics officials, who suggested that he also recuse himself from the Mueller probe because of the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Whitaker, in an opening statement, told members of the House judiciary committee that he “cannot speak” about his communications with Trump. 

“I want to assure you that I will seek to answer the committee’s questions today, as best as I can, but I also must make clear that I will continue the longstanding Executive Branch policy and practice of not disclosing information that may be subject to executive privilege, such as the contents of deliberations or conversations with the president,” Whitaker said. 

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Iowa Republican senatorial candidate former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker looks on before a live televised debate at Iowa Public Television studios, Thursday, April 24, 2014, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
UNITED STATES - July 23: Matt Whitaker (R) Iowa is interviewed at Roll Call office in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
Iowa Republican senatorial candidates, retired CEO Mark Jacobs, left, and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker, talk after a live televised debate at KCCI-TV studios, Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Iowa Republican senatorial candidate, former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker, looks on before a live televised debate at KCCI-TV studios, Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
FILE - In this April 11, 2014, file photo, Iowa Senate candidate Matt Whitaker speaks during the Iowa Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A GOP TV spot comparing castrating hogs to cutting spending, and Democrat Bruce Braley’s comment that lawyers like him are better suited to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee than “an Iowa farmer” like U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, have raised the Iowa’s open Senate seat on the GOP’s list of winnable races in the 2014 elections. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Iowa Republican Matt Whitaker officially announces his plans to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014 during a news conference, Monday, June 3, 2013, in Ankeny, Iowa. The former U.S. attorney said that he will seek the seat being vacated by retiring five-term Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
FILE - In this April 11, 2014, file photo, Iowa Senate candidate Matt Whitaker speaks during the Iowa Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A GOP TV spot comparing castrating hogs to cutting spending, and Democrat Bruce Braley’s comment that lawyers like him are better suited to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee than “an Iowa farmer” like U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, have raised the Iowa’s open Senate seat on the GOP’s list of winnable races in the 2014 elections. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
UNITED STATES - July 23: Matt Whitaker (R) Iowa is interviewed at Roll Call office in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
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Whitaker’s opening statement came after a dramatic start to the hearing in which Republicans called for a vote to adjourn before Whitaker’s testimony even began. The question of whether Whitaker would appear at all Friday morning had been up in the air for most of Thursday, as the Justice Department sought assurances from the committee that Whitaker would not face a subpoena if he showed up voluntarily.

William Barr, who Trump nominated to take over the position of attorney general on a permanent basis, is expected to be confirmed by the Senate next week. It’s unclear whether Whitaker will then take on a new role in the Justice Department or move back to the private sector. 

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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