By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker agreed to meet with lawmakers to clarify his testimony, a congressional leader said on Tuesday, referring to an appearance where Whitaker was quizzed about whether President Donald Trump had sought to influence investigations.
“I want to thank Mr. Whitaker for volunteering to meet with us to clarify his @HouseJudiciary testimony,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, tweeted, saying he hoped to schedule Whitaker in the “coming days.”
Lawmakers have not said what Whitaker will address from his Feb. 8 testimony, which Nadler previously said was “unsatisfactory, incomplete, or contradicted by other evidence.”
But the most persistent questions then focused on whether Whitaker had contact with Trump about an investigation into hush-money payments to women during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney.
The Justice Department, which has already said Whitaker stands by his testimony, had no immediate comment.
The brief tenure of Whitaker as head of the Justice Department ended on Feb. 14 when the Senate confirmed Trump’s choice of permanent Attorney General William Barr.
The Judiciary Committee has obtained possible evidence suggesting that Trump asked Whitaker about possibly changing the prosecutor in charge of the hush-money probe, said a person familiar with the matter.
A House Judiciary Committee spokesman and a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment.
If true, such a request by Trump could bolster Democratic efforts to show that the president has sought to influence law enforcement investigations against him and his associates.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is said to be close to ending a 21-month investigation into whether Russia meddled in the 2016 election to help Trump; whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow; and whether Trump has since obstructed justice.
Russia has denied meddling. Trump has denied any collusion. The Mueller probe has clouded his presidency for many months.
Nadler’s panel has information suggesting that Trump asked Whitaker if U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman could take control of an investigation of Cohen by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, said the source who asked not to be identified.
Berman is a former law partner of another Trump attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Trump dismissed as false a report in the New York Times last week about a similar request to Whitaker.
Congressional investigators now have information that such a request was made and that Whitaker provided misleading testimony to the panel while under oath during his contentious Feb. 8 hearing, the source said.
In that session, Whitaker testified he had not talked to Trump about the probe and had not interfered with it in any way.
He also denied media reports that claimed that Trump had lashed out at Whitaker after he learned Cohen was pleading guilty to lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow.
Nadler said then that media reports contradicted Whitaker’s testimony and that “several individuals” had direct knowledge of phone calls Whitaker denied receiving from the White House.
Cohen was sentenced in December to three years in prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations, including making payments to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Cohen said he made those payments at the direction of Trump.
Both women have claimed they had affairs with Trump. He has denied having sex with Daniels and denied McDougal’s claim.
Cohen testified behind closed doors to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. He is expected to testify publicly on Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee.
(Additional reporting by Nathan Layne and Karen Freifeld; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Cynthia Osterman)