Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee Friday, widely rebuked by Democrats, has also earned the scorn of a former leading FBI official. Whitaker, who was appointed to the role by President Donald Trump following the ousting of Jeff Sessions in November, repeatedly avoided questions from Democrats during Friday's hearing. On several occasions, Sessions's former chief of staff challenged the authority of the committee, which was holding its first hearing with a member of the Trump administration since Democrats took control of the House in the 2018 midterms.
Speaking on MSNBC shortly after the hearing, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence Frank Figliuzzi said Whitaker's performance compared negatively to some of the most dangerous criminals he had interviewed in his career.
"I'm not kidding when I say I have interviewed terrorists who are more cooperative and respectful than Matt Whitaker was today," Figliuzzi began, provoking laughter from MSNBC host Nicole Wallace. "I gotta tell you, I say that with sadness, because the attorney general role is America's lawyer.
"We are his client and we are represented by the Congress members sitting in that room and he treated us with utter disdain, sarcasm, barely trying to get through this seriously," Figliuzzi continued. "This is basically thumbing your nose at oversight by the people. And the way he conducted himself today is an indication that he is not America's attorney. He is essentially seeing himself as Trump's attorney."
Whitaker faced most scrutiny during the hearing over why he was chosen by Trump to head the Justice Department, rather than the normal line of succession rules being followed. Numerous questions centered on Whitaker's media appearances before joining the Justice Department in which he railed against special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
At times, Whitaker appeared to be adopting deliberate stalling tactics to avoid answering Democrats' questions. Near the beginning of the hearing, the 49-year-old informed Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler that his five-minutes questioning time had expired, prompting gasps from the chamber.
Whitaker, frequently smirking, later made a similar comment to another Democrat on the committee, Sheila Jackson Lee, prompting a fierce admonishment.
"Mr. attorney general, we're not joking here. And your humor is not acceptable," Jackson Lee said. "Now, you are here because we have a constitutional duty to ask questions, and the Congress has a right to establish government rules. The rules are that you are here, and I need to ask the question and I need to have my time restored so that you can behave appropriately."
Still, in the mind of the president, whose nominee William Barr is set to soon replace Whitaker, there was only one side that was in the wrong during the hearing.
"The Democrats in Congress yesterday were vicious and totally showed their cards for everyone to see," Trump tweeted Saturday morning. "When the Republicans had the Majority they never acted with such hatred and scorn! The Dems are trying to win an election in 2020 that they know they cannot legitimately win!"