During his sworn testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker lent credence to a flimsy conspiracy theory about CNN’s coverage of Roger Stone’s arrest.
Whitaker’s move to team up with ranking member Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) to spread a conspiracy theory indicates the extent to which Trump and his supporters are willing to go to suggest special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign is tainted by political motives.
Asked by Collins if he is “familiar from public reports or otherwise” that “a CNN reporter was camped out outside of Stone’s house when the FBI arrested him,” Whitaker said he was, and that he finds it “deeply concerning.”
Collins followed up by asking if somebody at DOJ “share[d] a draft indictment with CNN prior to Stone’s arrest.” Whitaker didn’t rule it out, and went on to say, “I share your concern with the possibility that a media outlet was tipped off to Mr. Stone’s either indictment or arrest before it was made, that information was available to the public.”
So Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) decided to use a big chunk of his questioning to ask Matt Whitaker about the right-wing conspiracy that CNN was tipped off by Robert Mueller on nthe Roger Stone arrest.— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) February 8, 2019
Whitaker eventually says 'we do not know of anything" supporting that. pic.twitter.com/gxYugCO0wD
The implication of Collins’s line of questioning is that somebody with Mueller’s team leaked news of Stone’s impending arrest to CNN, who responded by dispatching a reporter to his house. This conspiracy theory has also been spread by President Trump.
Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country! NO COLLUSION! Border Coyotes, Drug Dealers and Human Traffickers are treated better. Who alerted CNN to be there?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2019
But the conspiracy theory was debunked even before Stone was arrested on January 25.
The night before, CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz explained that unusual grand jury activity indicated that Stone’s arrest was imminent. The network responded by having reporters stake out Stone’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida, home.
For those wondering how CNN connected the dots, here's @ShimonPro last night -- before the arrest of Roger Stone -- explaining the unusual grand jury activity taking place in DC on Thursday and why it might indicate new indictments coming. https://t.co/WOhner329K— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) January 25, 2019
CNN ended up obtaining exclusive footage of Stone’s arrest.
“FBI. Open the door.”— CNN (@CNN) January 25, 2019
Watch exclusive CNN footage of the FBI arresting longtime Trump associate Roger Stone. Stone has been indicted by a grand jury on charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller. https://t.co/5QHKDB2mfA pic.twitter.com/UeKo7CmXWo
Whitaker also confirmed he was briefed about Stone’s arrest before it happened. Stone was arrested wearing a “Roger Stone did nothing wrong” shirt, which raises questions about whether he was given some sort of heads up from DOJ that the FBI was coming for him.
“Mr. Chairman, I see that your time is up”
Collins’s line of questioning came immediately after committee chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) made Whitaker squirm with questions about his involvement in the Mueller investigation.
At one point, Whitaker admonished Nadler, saying, “Mr. Chairman, I see that your time is up,” instead of answering his questions — an unusual thing for the nation’s chief law enforcement official to do to a committee chair representing a co-equal branch of government.
NADLER: "In your capacity as acting attorney general have you ever been asked to approve any request for action to be taken by the special counsel?"— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 8, 2019
WHITAKER: "Mr chairman, I see that your time is up."
[uproarious laughter] pic.twitter.com/sHlPpXP9Os
Whitaker refused to answer questions about his conversations with Trump, citing executive privilege. During his opening statement, Nadler told Whitaker that his “failure to respond fully to our questions here today in no way limits the ability of this committee to get answers in the longer run, even if you’re a private citizen when we finally do.”
“The time for this administration to postpone accountability is over,” Nadler added.