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‘I see that your 5 minutes are up’: Whitaker cuts off Russia probe question

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Acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker on Friday elicited gasps when he cut off House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler as he was questioned on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference.

As Nadler asked Whitaker if he’d ever been asked to “approve any request or action to be taken by” Mueller, the acting attorney general said, “Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up.”

“I am here voluntarily. We have agreed to five-minute rounds,” he added.

Nadler, seemingly in shock at the breach of protocol, began laughing as other House members at Friday’s hearing appeared to be astonished at Whitaker’s behavior.

The committee chairman kept pushing Whitaker on the issue, who eventually said, “I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation.”

Whitaker’s elevation to acting attorney general after the abrupt resignation of Jeff Sessions was controversial from the start, particularly due to his public criticism of the Mueller probe.

Read more: LIVE: Democrats and Republicans come out swinging at Matthew Whitaker’s high stakes hearing before Congress

Sessions had famously recused himself from any investigations related to Russian election interference, for which Trump never forgave him. It ultimately catalyzed Sessions’ decision to step down at the request of the president.

There were calls for Whitaker to similarly recuse himself, but he never did and it’s remained a point of controversy.

Democrats have put increasing pressure on the Trump administration with regards to Russia since taking over the House, following big wins in November’s midterm elections. Nadler, among others, has zeroed-in on Whitaker’s role in overseeing the Russia investigation as a result of his elevation to acting attorney general.

Read more: Trump said ‘you have to get rid of’ the Russia probe and parroted a Kremlin talking point in a wide-ranging interview

Whitaker and House Democrats have gone back and forth in recent days on the circumstances of his testimony. After House Democrats earlier this week voted to give Nadler the power to subpoena Whitaker if he refused to testify, the acting attorney general on Thursday said he would not cooperate unless the subpoena threat was dropped.

Nadler issued a statement that said there would “be no need” to make good on the subpoena threat if Whitaker came to the hearing on Friday “prepared to respond to questions from our Members.”

Subsequently, Whitaker agreed to testify before the committee, and his highly anticipated appearance proved to be tense from the start.

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