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Top Democrat says Whitaker didn’t deny talking to Trump about Cohen in closed hearing

Democrats grill Whitaker in combative hearing

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said former Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker contradicted previous testimony before the committee in a closed hearing on Tuesday. According to Nadler, Whitaker did not deny talking to President Trump about Michael Cohen.

"Unlike in the hearing room, Mr. Whitaker did not deny that the president called him to discuss Michael Cohen -- the Michael Cohen case, and personnel decisions in the Southern District," Nadler said Wednesday. Whitaker denied he had spoken to Mr. Trump about his former attorney, who is now cooperating with the special counsel's office, in testimony last month

Nadler also referred to the Southern District of New York, which is involved in a campaign finance case against Cohen which implicates Mr. Trump. Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, recused himself from cases involving Mr. Trump, who appointed Berman.

"While he was acting attorney general, Mr. Whitaker was directly involved in conversations about whether to fire one or more U.S. attorneys," Nadler continued. "Mr. Whitaker was [also] involved in conversations about the scope of the Southern District of New York's U.S. Attorney Berman's recusal, and whether the Southern District went too far in pursuing the campaign finance case."

However, Nadler did not say Whitaker explicitly acknowledged having conversations with Mr. Trump about Cohen. And Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the committee, said Nadler's description was an "inaccurate interpretation" of what Whitaker said.

"I think that is an inaccurate interpretation of what he said. Mr. Whitaker said he did not have conversations with the president about Cohen," Collins, who has publicly butted heads with Nadler, told reporters. He also disputed Nadler's interpretation of Whitaker's potential discussions about the Southern District.

"That was taken in the context of his job as the acting attorney general where there is discussions in the normal personnel issues. To imply it would imply anything else besides that is really an overreach," Collins said.

Bo Erickson contributed to this report