6 Heated Moments During Whitaker's Testimony, Including a Call to End the Hearing Before it Started
WASHINGTON — The bickering started even before Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker appeared before Congress on Friday.
Things only got worse during his all-day hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.
From yelling to calls to end the hearing, Whitaker's appearance gave Americans a front-row seat to the fraught relationship between the Trump administration and the new Democratic majority in the House.
Here are six heated moments that set the tone for the hearing and might give an indication of where the White House’s relationship with a divided Congress might be headed:
For much of Thursday, it wasn't clear whether Whitaker would show up to the hearing on Friday.
Much of the uncertainty revolved around a subpoena threat from committee chairman Nadler. He was authorized on Thursday to serve a subpoena on Whitaker if he declined to answer lawmakers' questions during the hearing, including over those pertaining to his conversations with the president.
The Justice Department responded that Whitaker would appear only if the subpoena threat was withdrawn.
After talks throughout the day, Nadler agreed to withdraw the subpoena threat for the time being and Whitaker, in turn, said he would testify before lawmakers.
But, Nadler kept the door open for other hearings and scrutiny, even ending the hearing saying the committee would call back Whitaker, under subpoena if necessary, for a closed-door interview to get "more fulsome" answers to questions.
“Your failure to respond fully to our questions here today in no way limits the ability of this committee to get answers in the long run, even if you are a private citizen when we finally learn the truth,” Nadler said.
Calling to end the hearing before it even began
Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the panel’s ranking Republican, opened up the hearing by calling it an “exercise in character assassination.”
“This is not about what the good men and women at the Justice Department are doing,” Collins said, waving off the opening statement given by Democratic Rep. Jerold Nadler, the committee chairman. “No, we want to damage the president. That’s offensive!”
Collins accused the Democrats of playing a hide-and-seek game by threatening to subpoena Whitaker.
"This hearing is pointless," he said. "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 we just set up a popcorn machine in the back, because that's what this is becoming. It's becoming a show.
He ended his remarks by asking to adjourn the session before lawmakers even got to their questioning of Whitaker. The call failed after a 24 to 10 vote.
Whitaker cuts off top Democrat
Nadler, the top Democrat on the committee, pressed for answers in a line of questioning about special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. He asked Whitaker whether he'd ever been asked to approve any action taken by Mueller's office.
Whitaker then cut him off: "Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes are up."
The comment prompted a roar of laughter through the hearing room gallery, taking even Nadler by surprise.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, laced into Whitaker and the administration's zero-tolerance policy on illegal crossings at the southern border.
The policy led to thousands of children being separated from their families, many of which have yet to be reunited.
"Do you know what kind of damage has been done to children and families across this country, children who will never get to see their parents again?" she asked, appearing to get emotion. "Do you understand the magnitude of that?"
Whitaker sat stone-faced for a moment then attempted to respond when Jayapal asked if the Justice Department had started tracking these children and their parents so they could be reunited.
"Congresswoman, I appreciate your passion for this issue and I know you've been very involved on the frontlines of this issue.
She stopped him: This is about more than my passion. This is about these children's future, Mr. Whitaker."
He continued, explaining that both the arrests and detention of migrants crossing the border are handled by the Department of Homeland Security
'We're not joking here'
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, asked for yes-and-no answers from Whitaker, who repeatedly offered longer replies to her questions.
“I will not allow the witness to stall and waste time,” Nadler said.
When Jackson Lee asked that her time be restored to ask additional questions, Whitaker chimed in, asking if that question was directed to him.
"I'm sorry, I don't know if your times been restored or not," he said, leading to snickering in the audience and Jackson Lee bristling.
“We’re not joking here,” Jackson Lee said. “Your humor is not acceptable.”
'I'm not a puppet'
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., asked Whitaker’s job before he joined the Justice Department, which prompted the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, to call for a point of order.
“This is outside the scope of this hearing,” Collins said.
“Mr. Collins, if you want to sit down there with his lawyers, you can go sit down there,” Swalwell said. “But you’re not his lawyer.”
“And neither are you, Mr. Swalwell,” Collins said. “If you had questions that actually part of this instead of running for president down there, we could get this done.”
“You could sit down there. There’s room,” Swalwell said.
Swalwell asked a series of questions about whether Robert Mueller was honest or whether he had any conflicts of interest in his investigation. Whitaker said Mueller is honest and that he had no reason to believe he had any conflicts.
“Are you able to say it, or do you not believe it?” Swalwell asked.
“I’m not a puppet to repeat what you’re saying,” Whitaker said, before folding his hands on the table in front of him and refusing to answer further questions.
Whether a sitting president can be indicted
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., asked a series of questions about whether the Constitution had any sentences that prohibit indicting the National Security Adviser, the president’s former campaign chairman, the president’s children, the vice president or the president.
“Of course it does not, congressman, and you know that and I know that,” Whitaker said. “There is no sentence in the United States Constitution that says the president’s children cannot be indicted.”
The pair then got into a heated back-and-forth over whether the sitting president could be indicted. Whitaker pointed to a Justice Department opinion on the matter that argued against whether a president could be indicted.
He refused to answer whether the Constitution had any language that would prevent a sitting president from facing criminal charges.
Lieu then entered the Constitution for congressional record.