With the question of President Trump’s possible meddling in criminal cases that could implicate him front and center, former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker appeared Wednesday for an interview with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and, Nadler says, made a slight but significant change in the account he gave in an open hearing of his conversations with the president.
“Unlike in the hearing room, Whitaker did not deny that the president told him to discuss the Michael Cohen case and personnel decisions in the Southern District,” Nadler, D-N.Y., told reporters following Wednesday’s closed door meeting.
At the the hearing last month, Whitaker gave what appeared to be a carefully phrased statement intended to exonerate the president from allegations that could lead to charges he tried to subvert the investigation into Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer.
“At no time has the White House asked for, nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation,” Whitaker said in his opening statement.
But during combative questioning by Democrats, Whitaker was asked by Nadler whether he had “communicated any information” he had learned in briefings with investigators to the president.
“I have not talked to the president of the United States about the special counsel’s investigation,” Whitaker responded, leaving open the question of whether he had spoken to Trump about Cohen’s case, which was brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, not special counsel Robert Mueller.
A day earlier, the New York Times reported that Trump had called Whitaker to inquire whether he could install Geoffrey Berman, an ally of the president’s, to oversee investigations into his administration. Berman is the U.S. attorney for the Southern District but has recused himself from the Cohen investigation and related matters.
The meeting Wednesday with Whitaker was private. The ranking Republican on the committee, Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., was also there, and disputed Nadler’s account. According to Collins, Whitaker said that he “did not talk with the president about Mr. Cohen at all,” CNN reported.
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