Watch CBSN Live

Matthew Whitaker to testify Friday before House committee

Whitaker: Russia investigation wrapping up

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker will testify at a oversight hearing Friday, House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler tweeted Thursday night. Whitaker had earlier threatened not to testify unless he received "written assurance" that he would not be issued a subpoena, Nadler responded with a letter saying that if Whitaker is "prepared to respond" to the committee's questions, it will not have to subpoena him.  

"If you appear before the Committee tomorrow morning and if you are prepared to respond to questions from our Members, then I assure you that there will be no need for the Committee to issue a subpoena on or before February 8," Nadler wrote to Whitaker late Thursday afternoon. "To the extent that you believe you are unable to fully respond to any specific question, we are prepared to handle your concerns on a case-by-case basis, both during and after tomorrow's hearing." 

"Thank you, and I look forward to your testimony tomorrow," Nadler added.    

Earlier in the day, the Democratic-controlled committee voted to authorize Nadler to subpoena Whitaker. But Nadler wrote in a statement that he hoped "never to use" it.  

Should Whitaker refuse to appear, Nadler could subpoena him, and the fight over his appearance might then extend until after Attorney General nominee William Barr is confirmed. Whitaker's team argues this is a matter of precedent, and the chairman should not be allowed to hold a draft subpoena over Whitaker's head throughout a hearing.

Whitaker issued a statement Thursday saying he had agreed to testify "in good faith" and found the threat of subpoena would turn the hearing into "a public spectacle." Whitaker said the Justice Department had devoted "considerable resources and numerous hours to my preparation" for his testimony.

"Unfortunately, the Committee now has deviated from historic practice and protocol and taken the unnecessary and premature step of authorizing a subpoena to the me, the Acting Attorney General, even though I had agreed to voluntarily appear," Whitaker said in the statement. "Such unprecedented action breaches our prior agreement and circumvents the constitutionally required accommodation process."

Whitaker added that "political theater is not the purpose of an oversight hearing."

"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 said.

Nadler said in his statement that the committee granted him with subpoena power to show that with Democrats in power, Congress would no longer allow "government witnesses to dodge uncomfortable questions."

"Weeks ago, we gave Mr. Whitaker a list of questions we hope to ask him about his communications with the White House and his refusal to recuse himself from oversight of the Special Counsel's investigation.  If he appears on time and ready to answer those questions, the subpoena will be entirely unnecessary," Nadler said.

In previous hearings, government officials have used executive privilege to avoid answering certain questions from committee members. 

Paula Reid contributed to this report.  

View CBS News In