Democrats struggle to flex muscles over Russian collusion hearing

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Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker arrives to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019 in Washington.  Democrats are eager to press him on his interactions with President Donald Trump and his oversight of the special counsel’s Russia investigation. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Donald Trump’s acting top lawyer has denied interfering with the Russia collusion allegations.

It was the first time he’d been in front of them since power in the lower house of Congress shifted to opposition Democrats.

But it proved a frustrating day for them.

CGTN’s Owen Fairclough reports.

In theory, it was a moment for empowered opposition Democrats to flex their muscles.

Having won control of the House of Representatives, they wanted to find out if Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker had compromised himself over the Russia collusion inquiry he’s overseeing – because he’d been a vocal critic of it.

But, it was frustrating day for Democrats.

In a testy exchange, lawmaker Zoe Lofgren asked Whitaker, “I’d like to know did you discuss or share your private opinions of the special counsel’s investigation with President Trump or other White House officials such as Mr Kelly or Trump family members, or public surrogates like Mr Giuliani? And I would note this is not covered by executive privilege, because you were a private citizen.”

“I can assure this committee that before appointing me to this position the President did not ask for and I did not provide any commitments or promises concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other in investigation,”  Whitaker replied.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is completing his inquiry into claims the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to swing the 2016 presidential election in his favor – as well as whether Trump obstructed justice.

And while Whitaker insisted he hasn’t interfered with Mueller’s work, he used executive privilege to stonewall questions about conversations he may have had with Trump since he became Acting Attorney General.

In many ways, this hearing – denounced by Republicans as political theater – was an academic exercise – Whittaker’s permanent replacement as Attorney General, William Barr,  is expected to be sworn in next week.

Bruce Fein discusses Friday’s hearing on the Russian collusion investigation

CGTN’s Elaine Reyes spoke with constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein about Friday’s hearing on the Russia collusion investigation with President Trump’s acting Attorney General.