Politics

Sources: DOJ blames Whitaker delay on shutdown

Democrats may try to force appearance by subpoena

(CNN) - The Justice Department has been in ongoing talks with Capitol Hill about a date for acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, according to a sources familiar with the discussions. But Whitaker has yet to agree to a date -- raising the possibility that Democrats may try to force him to appear with a subpoena.

Democrats have accused Justice officials of dragging their feet to get a date on the books, but in negotiations with lawmakers the department has privately cited complications from the government shutdown and Whitaker's travel schedule as reasons for the delay, sources said.

One source said the Office of Legislative Affairs at the Department of Justice, which coordinates department leadership appearances on the Hill, has been short-staffed during the shutdown over the past few weeks and they typically request 14 days' notice to prep for a hearing.

Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, has requested that Whitaker appear by January 31.

If Whitaker doesn't make that deadline, it raises the possibility that his much-anticipated appearance could be put off until after his permanent replacement, Bill Barr, takes the job, should he be confirmed by the Senate. If that happened, Democrats would lose a valuable opportunity to question Whitaker while he serves as acting attorney general overseeing the special counsel's investigation.

Nadler is not prepared to let Whitaker off the hook, however, saying last week that Democrats would subpoena him "if we have to."

"They're dragging their feet on a date," Nadler told CNN.

Nadler and House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, had a phone call with Whitaker last month in which the acting attorney general agreed to come before the Judiciary panel to discuss, in part, his role in overseeing the Mueller probe.


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