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Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker testifies before the House Judiciary Committee

Matthew Whitaker

"I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel investigation", Whitaker told the committee.

When Nadler got his five minutes to ask questions, they were all about Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation into Russian collusion.

"I have and will continue to manage this investigation in a manner that is consistent with the governing regulations", he said in his opening remarks.

Whitaker said that he has run the Justice Department to the best of his ability, with "fidelity to the law and to the Constitution".

He also said all Whitaker received the questions weeks ago so they would know ahead of time which were subject to executive privilege.

But the antagonism between House Democrats and Whitaker was on full display throughout the hearing on Friday.

"Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up", Whitaker said, drawing gasps from the panel and a shocked crowd, adding: "I am here voluntarily".

The Texas Democrat was trying to ask Whitaker if he had a confirmation hearing and if it has been more than ten years since he has testified before Congress. President Trump's pick for the position, William Barr, is expected to be confirmed next week.

The remark drew gasps in the hearing room, where committee chairmen hold enormous power, including over who asks the questions and for how long.

"I'm thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that's what this is becoming". Collins exclaimed. "This hearing is not about what the good men and women of the Department of Justice are doing".

Bickering ensued between Whitaker and a number of Democrats during the House hearing Friday, and Whitaker stunned the room when he attempted to call time on Chairman Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.).

"Do you agree with the president's characterization of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation?" she asked.

"I will not allow the witness to stall and waste members' time", Nadler said.

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) denounced the "theatrics" of the proceedings and said they were "nothing more than a character assassination".

He said he had "consulted with a lot of people" about the options, but it was ultimately his choice.

Trump tabbed Whitaker to lead the agency on a temporary basis after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was ousted immediately after the midterm elections in November.

Whitaker testified he had never spoken with members of Trump's inner circle about his views on the probe as a private citizen before he joined the Justice Department.

Nadler told CNN Democrats will not be intimidated by Trump.

White House officials kept an eye on Whitaker's performance and, while they appreciated his combative tone and aggressive defense of the administration, there was a sense from aides that his performance, at times, appeared halting and ill-prepared.

Democrats on the Ways and Means committee have taken the first step to obtain Mr Trump's tax returns, which he refused to publicly release during the 2016 campaign.

Democrats pushed Whitaker on whether he was still critical of the special counsel investigation he is now in charge of.