The Justice Department is laying the groundwork for acting attorney general Matt Whitaker to faceplant during his congressional testimony, but Democrats say he should be prepared for questioning.
Dozens of DOJ officials have been prepping Whitaker to testify Friday before a Democratic-led oversight committee, and a source suggested President Donald Trump’s political opponents were lying in wait for the acting attorney general, reported The Daily Beast.
“They hate this guy so much,” the source said.
Dozens of Justice Department officials have been peppering Whitaker with questions in “moot” hearings, but sources suggested House Democrats would blindside him with questions about his conversations with the president about special counsel Robert Mueller.
“We don’t know what we’re up against with the House Judiciary Committee,” the source told The Daily Beast. “We have no idea.”
A senior Justice Department official agreed, saying, “We don’t know what they’re going to do.”
But a spokesman for Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, dismissed those pre-emptive excuses as ridiculous.
“The notion that Mr. Whitaker doesn’t know what to expect on Friday is absurd,” said Nadler spokesman Daniel Schwarz. “We have given him months to prepare for this hearing, provided him with a list of questions more than two weeks ago, and we continue to give our Republican colleagues every opportunity to weigh in on the process.”
“Most importantly,” Schwarz added, “in repeated public letter after public letter, we have made our expectations for Mr. Whitaker’s appearance crystal clear. If he is still confused at this point, it is because he hasn’t done his homework—not because we haven’t explained it to him.”
Nadler sent the acting attorney general a Jan. 22 letter that lists questions he intends to ask, and he also asked Whitaker to notify him at least 48 hours in advance if he planned to invoke executive privilege on any of those questions.
The Justice Department has already missed Nadler’s deadline.
“We’re not aware of any rules that govern a set amount of time when one needs to invoke executive privilege,” one senior Justice Department official told The Daily Beast. “We do intend to respond, fulsomely addressing the executive-privilege issue in a letter before the hearing.”
If Whitaker refuses to answer questions without invoking executive privilege, the committee could move to hold him in contempt of Congress and then ask a federal judge to force him to answer.
Nadler’s committee plans to vote Thursday whether to subpoena pre-emptively Whitaker, so they could serve him with the subpoena if he refuses to answer questions.
“It’s unfortunate that they decided to engage in this kind of political theatrics, especially given the fact that this is someone who has voluntarily agreed to come in,” the senior DOJ official said. “We’ve never seen this before.”