I would love nothing more than to watch Matt Whitaker dissolve into a puddle of sweat tomorrow while nervously blurting out incriminating things that Donald Trump didn’t want him to say. In fact I might even make popcorn. But amid all the back-and-forth about whether he’ll answer the most important questions, or whether he’ll even show up, there’s something we’re all in danger of overlooking here: it doesn’t matter.
Not really, anyway. It does marginally matter, in the sense that Whitaker’s bumbling public testimony could help paint him as guilty in the eyes of the general public, and in the sense that he might screw up and give away some of Trump’s dirty secrets for all to hear. But public congressional hearings are generally grandstanding affairs, full of made for television moments, as politicians on both sides try to use their questions to score points.
If Matt Whitaker were scheduled to testify in private, that would be more of a fact finding mission, where no one was playing for the cameras, and the answers might help steer the real prosecutors out there in the right direction. In fact I would argue that the whole reason the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee targeted Whitaker as their first witness was to scare the living crap out of him. Trump is in Whitaker’s one ear, telling him to commit obstruction of justice crimes. Now the House Democrats are in his other ear, reminding him that they’re watching him very carefully.
So if Whitaker finds a way to dodge showing up tomorrow and then tries to run out the clock by fighting the subpoena, or if he shows up and refuses to answer questions, it won’t mean he’s “gotten away” with anything. The point is not to bring him in and publicly humiliate him, though he deserves as much. The point is to scare him into staying out of Robert Mueller’s way for the rest of his tenure as Acting Attorney General.
Don’t worry, if Matthew Whitaker has in fact broken the law, either at Donald Trump’s instruction or with his own prior toilet scam, Whitaker will go down for it. But that’ll be the handiwork of Robert Mueller or a U.S. Attorney’s office, and it’ll happen without regard for what happens tomorrow. Whitaker’s testimony in front of the House tomorrow, or even just the fact that the House has been breathing down his neck all week, is really about scaring him into leaving Mueller alone.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report