President Trump on Saturday blasted “vicious” Democrats for their conduct during a House Judiciary Committee hearing a day earlier that featured Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker -- and saw fiery exchanges between him and House Dems.
“The Democrats in Congress yesterday were vicious and totally showed their cards for everyone to see,” Trump tweeted.
While the hearing had been pitched as a standard oversight hearing, it soon turned into a contentious, confirmation-style grilling of Whitaker, despite the fact that he may only have a few more days left on the job. Trump’s pick to head the DOJ, former Attorney General William Barr, is poised for Senate confirmation in the near future.
Democrats became increasingly agitated at what they saw as Whitaker’s efforts to run out the clock and control the hearing process. This, as they sought to ask him about his oversight of FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has been conducting an expansive probe of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race.
Whitaker stunned onlookers when he told House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., that his time slot had expired as Nadler asked Whitaker if he'd been “asked to approve any requests or action” for the special counsel.
“Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up, so…” Whitaker replied, eliciting gasps from the room. “I am here voluntarily. We have agreed to five-minute rounds.”
Later, he was scolded by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, when she asked if her time had been restored and Whitaker responded: “I don’t know if your time’s been restored or not.”
“Mr. Attorney General, we’re not joking here, and your humor is not acceptable,” the congresswoman responded.
"I control this time, Mr. Whitaker,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., when Whitaker accused him of challenging his character.
“This is my time. Mr. Whitaker, you don't run this committee. You don't run the Congress of the United States, and you don't run the Judiciary Committee," Raskin snapped.
Republicans on Friday backed Whitaker, with ranking member Doug Collins, R-Ga., calling on the committee to adjourn -- although a vote to do so did not pass. Collins called the daylong hearing a “dog and pony show.”
On Saturday Trump said that Republicans “never acted with such hatred and scorn” when they had the majority.
“The Dems are trying to win an election in 2020 that they know they cannot legitimately win!” he said. Trump has repeatedly referred to the Russia investigation as a "witch hunt."
The tone of the hearing had been teased on Thursday when Nadler threatened to subpoena Whitaker, while the DOJ threatened to boycott the hearing.
Nadler made clear early Thursday that he did not want to have to subpoena Whitaker, but said a “series of troubling events” suggested it would be better for him to be prepared with that authority, just in case he decided not to show up for the hearing.
But Whitaker then warned he would not show up unless lawmakers dropped the threat.
“Consistent with longstanding practice, I remain willing to appear to testify tomorrow, provided that the chairman assures me that the committee will not issue a subpoena today or tomorrow and that the committee will engage in good faith negotiations before taking such a step down the road,” Whitaker wrote to Nadler.
Hours later, Nadler responded that if Whitaker appeared before the panel “prepared to respond to questions from our members, then I assure you there will be no need for the committee to issue a subpoena on or before February 8.”
Whitaker accepted the assurances, as evidenced by his Friday appearance. But Nadler told reporters after the hearing that he was not happy with Whitaker’s answers and said he intends to bring him back for an additional deposition..
"He will come back, because we will use a subpoena if we have to," he said.
Fox News' Brooke Singman contributed to this report.