U.S. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, whose unorthodox appointment by President Donald Trump has raised concerns among Democrats about the future of the U.S.-Russia probe, will testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 8, the panel said on Tuesday.
In one of the first oversight appearances by a Trump administration official in the new Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, Whitaker is due to testify on a range of topics including U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
“If you plan to invoke executive privilege in an attempt to avoid answering any particular question, I ask that you consult with the White House well in advance of the hearing,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a Jan. 15 letter to Whitaker released by the panel.
A Trump loyalist, Whitaker was appointed by Trump to replace ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions without Senate confirmation. Democrats say the appointment violated the U.S. Constitution and view the move as a possible ploy by the White House to undermine Mueller’s efforts to determine whether Trump campaign members colluded with Russia.
Trump denies any collusion and has repeatedly condemned the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt.” Russia also denies any interference in the U.S. election.
The Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee did not issue a subpoena to compel Whitaker’s testimony, according to aides. But the panel’s chairman, Jerrold Nadler, threatened to do so earlier this month if it became necessary.
Whitaker had agreed to testify before the committee in January. But Nadler said last week that the Department of Justice was citing the partial government shutdown as a reason to delay Whitaker’s appearance until Feb. 12 or Feb. 13.
The Whitaker hearing is set to begin on Feb. 8 at 9:30 a.m. EST (1430 GMT), regardless of whether the government shutdown continues, an aide said.
It was not clear how much longer Whitaker will head the Justice Department. William Barr, who served as attorney general under former President H.W. Bush, has been nominated for the job by Trump. Senate confirmation hearings for Barr began this week.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)