House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler told reporters Wednesday that former Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker “did not deny” that President Trump called him to discuss the Michael Cohen case and personnel decisions in the Southern District of New York.
The comments came after a closed-door meeting between members of the committee, their staff, and Whitaker. The two met because Nadler had asked Whitaker to clarify comments he made in front of the committee last month.
During that testimony, Nadler said publicly Whitaker refused to answer specific questions about whether he discussed Cohen’s case in the Southern District of New York with Trump and to what extent he had spoken about Cohen generally with Trump.
“You repeatedly refused to offer clear responses regarding your communications with the White House, and you were inconsistent in your application of the [Department of Justice’s] policy related to the discussion of ongoing investigations,” Nadler wrote in a letter asking Cohen to reappear in front of the committee.
Following their closed-door meeting on Wednesday, Nadler said Whitaker was involved in conversations about the Southern District of New York and “whether to fire one or more U.S. attorneys.”
Nadler also said that Whitaker was also involved in conversations about the recusal of U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman and “whether the Southern District went too far in pursuing the campaign finance case in which the president was listed as Individual Number 1,” Nadler said.
“We disagree with Representative Nadler’s characterization of the conversation,” said a DOJ official who was in the room. “Consistent with his prior testimony, Mr. Whitaker said that he couldn’t discuss private conversations with the president … and that the president never directed him to do anything to affect that investigation.”
The official said Whitaker repeatedly made clear that during his tenure as acting attorney general “the Department handled the Cohen case (and all other cases) consistent with established Department policies and free from any improper interference.”
Another DOJ official briefed on the conversation said Whitaker responded to multiple questions by saying he couldn’t discuss his talks with Trump.
Only a few people were in the room: Nadler; the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Doug Collins; DOJ lawyers; and staff for Nadler and Collins. No transcript of the meeting was produced.
Collins concurred with the view the DOJ official shared.
“In fact, he said he never talked with the president about Mr. Cohen at all and no conversation with the Southern District of New York either,” Collins told reporters after the meeting, according to The Hill.
“I think that is [Nadler’s] interpretation of what he said,” Collins continued, according to the paper. “Mr. Whitaker said he did not have conversations with the president about Cohen. ... If Mr. Nadler chooses to say by absence of what he didn’t say and that is how he is interpreting that, then Mr. Nadler will have to answer to that,” he continued.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Whitaker’s tenure as acting attorney general lasted about three months. He left the Justice Department altogether, with the appointment of William Barr as attorney general in February.
His short time as acting attorney general sparked controversy when reports surfaced that he had openly spoken out against the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election.