Acting U.S. attorney general snaps at Democrats over Russian Federation probe

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What was pitched as an oversight hearing with Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker on Friday quickly morphed into recriminations and barbed exchanges as Democrats pressed him for hours on his dealings with FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation - and Whitaker, in turn, angered committee lawmakers with his equally fiery comebacks.

Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is testifying before the House Judiciary Committee for the first time Friday.

Mr Whitaker - who leads the US Department of Justice - has refused to offer any details regarding the investigation or his opinions of it, and only stated he has been briefed on the special counsel's inquiry.

"I consulted with career ethics officials, I consulted my senior staff, I consulted with the office of legal counsel - it was my decision to make, I decided not to recuse", he explained.

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, attacked the proceedings, calling it "nothing more than a character assassination" and "political theater".

In his opening statement, he tore into Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) for the way the hearing was arranged and why.

"Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up", Whitaker said, in a bold challenge to the head of the committee.

Whitaker's appearance had been thrown into uncertainty after House Democrats threatened to subpoena his testimony about the special counsel's Russian Federation investigation.

"I am here voluntarily, we have agreed to five-minute rounds", Whitaker said. He could answer the question that he didn't have a conversation, but did somebody else?

"While DOJ claims that Whitaker made no promises to Trump about undermining the Mueller investigation, there were published reports that Trump asked Whitaker to control the prosecutors in the Southern District of NY", he explained.

Whitaker's appointment also raised legal questions, prompted court challenges, and renewed scrutiny of his past business practices.

"It was deeply concerning to me how CNN found out about that", Whitaker said, noting that no other media outlets appeared to be tipped off.

In a separate letter sent to Nadler, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd demanded a response on the subpoena question.

"In your capacity as acting attorney general, have you ever been asked to approve any request or action to be taken by the special counsel?" asked Nadler.

Other Democrats scolded Whitaker, with Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, sternly telling him his humor was not appreciated. The Senate judiciary committee voted along party lines Thursday to advance Barr's nomination. "Have you communicated any information in that briefing to President Trump?" But it does mean that a congressional witness's claim of executive privilege is hardly "game over" when it comes to having to answer touchy questions.

On Thursday evening, Nadler said no subpoena would be issued if Whitaker appeared before the committee Friday prepared to answer questions.

Asked whether Whitaker wouldn't testify due to a subpoena threat, Trump replied, "That I don't know". Nadler, who'd taken steps to a subpoena as a last-resort measure, said there would be no need for one if he showed up "prepared to respond to questions from our members".

He talks to Anna Maria Tremonti about his time working on Trump's campaign, and having the president's ear.