WASHINGTON — The top Democrat and Republican on the House Judiciary Committee disagreed Wednesday over what exactly former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker told them behind closed doors regarding his conversations with President Donald Trump — and the public may never know what was actually said.
“There’s no transcript (of the meeting), and there will be no transcript,” said a legal counsel for Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the panel.
The no-transcript caveat was one of the ground rules for the high-stakes meeting negotiated by Whitaker’s legal team and Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and his legal team to follow up Whitaker’s public testimony in February. Republicans had no say in determining ground rules for the second meeting.
Nadler indicated to reporters after the meeting Wednesday — which lasted roughly an hour — that Whitaker’s follow-up comments did little to allay his concerns that Whitaker misled the full committee during his public testimony in February, when he refused to answer a question from Nadler about whether he and Trump had discussed the case against his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen in the Southern District of New York.
Media outlets have reported that Trump expressed frustration to Whitaker following the release of a court memo that implicated the president in a campaign finance crime.
“Unlike in the hearing room, Mr. Whitaker did not deny that the president called him to discuss the Michael Cohen case and personnel decisions in the Southern District,” Nadler told reporters after the meeting.
Collins and his staff who were present at the meeting Wednesday said that was an unfair characterization of Whitaker’s words.
Whitaker “said he did not talk with the president about Mr. Cohen at all, and had no conversations with the Southern District of New York,” Collins said.
But a staffer for the Georgia Republican who was also in the room and took notes during the meeting did not go that far.
According to Collins’ legal counsel, Whitaker said in the meeting that he “does not remember” any conversations with Trump regarding Cohen.
Whitaker said he would have remembered if the president had expressed frustration about the case, but that he doesn’t remember such a conversation ever taking place, according to the minority staff legal counsel.
Ever since Whitaker was tapped to replace former Attorney General Jeff Sessions last fall, Democrats have held suspicions that Trump picked him over more qualified people to run the Justice Department as a way to curtail special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election or to deliver information about it to the White House.
Whitaker had been critical of the special counsel in radio interviews from before he worked for the DOJ and replaced Sessions.
©2019 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved
Visit CQ Roll Call at www.rollcall.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194):