WASHINGTON – Former Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker "did not deny" at a private meeting on Wednesday with the legislators of the House of Representatives that he had spoken to the President Trump of an investigation in New York who had trapped the Democratic president and his business. from the Judiciary Committee of the House said.
After the meeting, New York's President Jerrold Nadler presented Mr. Whitaker's remarks as contradicting his public testimony last month before the Judiciary Committee. At this hearing, Mr. Whitaker generally did not say whether he had contacted the President about the case, which led to a lawsuit against Michael D. Cohen, a former lawyer and repairer for Mr. Trump.
At the time, Whitaker had denied CNN's report that Mr. Trump had shouted at him after Cohen pleaded guilty to federal funding charges involving Trump. A New York Times report after the February hearing recounted another call between the two men about the case in which Mr Trump had asked if it was possible to entrust the 39 United States Attorney appointed by the President.
"Unlike the courtroom, Mr. Whitaker did not deny that the president had called him to discuss the Michael Cohen case and staff decisions in the southern district. "from New York, told reporters Mr. Nadler.
Democrats are extremely interested in the fact that the president tried to push Mr. Whitaker, a Trump loyalist, to influence the investigation during his brief term. Mr. Nadler called the follow-up interview to clarify parts of Mr. Whitaker's public testimony.
But Mr. Whitaker's remarks Wednesday about his conversations with Mr. Trump about the case seem to have been equally ambiguous and sometimes contradictory. Republicans in Congress and an official of the Department of Justice in the room, expressing under the guise of anonymity to be able to discuss a private interview, have presented other descriptions of what had been said.
"To imply that there is anything wrong, there is a way to go beyond anything that has been discussed," Georgia's Doug Collins told reporters. , the most Republican of the group.
Mr Nadler said that he would have to "analyze the new revelations and see where they lead".
The Justice Department official and Collins's Republican assistants said that at least for a moment, Mr. Whitaker had told legislators that he did not remember a conversation with him. President similar to that described by CNN. At another time, he said that he could not discuss his conversations with Mr. Trump.
They also stated that Mr. Whitaker had told lawmakers that the White House had never ordered him to rescind the recusal of Geoffrey S. Berman, the US District Attorney for the South District of New York that the President had named, but did not participate in the case. the case of financing the Cohen campaign.
The Times, however, reported last month that during a phone call last year, Mr. Trump had asked Mr. Whitaker if Mr. Berman could be charged with the current case. concerning the financing of the election campaign – not that he issued an instruction.
CNN's December report indicated that Mr. Trump had screamed after Mr. Whitaker after two events in the Cohen case: Mr. Cohen's decision to plead guilty to lying about the work of the Trump Organization over a real estate project in Moscow identification of the president as "self-1" in the related pleas.
The Times also reported that Whitaker told Ministry of Justice officials that his role as acting prosecutor included "jumping on a grenade" for Mr. Trump. He also told his associates that New York prosecutors needed "adult supervision".
Part of Whitaker's private remarks on Wednesday seemed to expand on these statements.
The Democratic and Republican advisers both said that Mr. Whitaker had told them that he had had discussions as Acting Attorney General with other officials of the Department of Justice on the "scope" of the challenge of Mr. Berman, on the legal theory underlying the campaign finance case and on the advisability of dismissing one. or several US lawyers.
Specifically, said Mr. Nadler, Mr. Whitaker said he discussed the question "whether the Southern District had gone too far in pursuit of the case of campaign financing in which the President was listed on the list of the particular No. 1 ".
At the meeting, Democratic and Republican advisers said Whitaker had spoken of the lack of prosecution of a campaign finance case against John Edwards, the former Democratic senator, and told members of his personal that certain claims in this case were "specious". "
Mr. Whitaker's brief tenure in the Department of Justice has been tainted by criticism from Democrats who questioned his qualifications and his decision not to abstain from overseeing the investigation into Russia, despite the recommendation of the ministry's ethics officers, based on its public criticism of the case. .
The interview was not transcribed, although the staff of Mr. Nadler, Mr. Collins and the Department of Justice officials present took notes.
Democratic aides have accused Republicans of selectively representing Whitaker's responses to his conversations with Trump. They did not dispute that Mr. Whitaker had said at times that he did not remember or could not comment on the conversations.
But toward the end of the meeting, the Democratic assistants said: Mr. Collins asked Mr. Whitaker if it was correct not to have spoken to Mr. Trump about the Cohen case. At that time, Mr. Whitaker stated that this had not been his testimony.