Feb. 7 (UPI) -- Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said Thursday he won't testify in the House Friday unless lawmakers drop their threat of a subpoena.
The Democrat-led House judiciary committee voted to authorize the subpoena in case refused to testify before the panel Friday, as scheduled. Whitaker subsequently imposed 6 p.m. EST deadline to drop it.
Democrats plan to ask Whitaker at the hearing about his communications with President Donald Trump, as well as concerns he might impede special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation by opting not to recuse himself from the Justice Department inquiry.
Since Whitaker became acting attorney general in November, he's been subject to controversy due to his criticisms of the Mueller probe.
Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement Thursday he hopes the subpoena wouldn't be necessary, but added it was important to be ready to issue one in light of "a series of troubling events over the past few months."
Nadler committed last fall to appear before the committee, but back-tracked in the following weeks, saying he never made such a promise.
"There is an additional concern," he said. "For the first two years of the Trump Administration, witnesses have often been allowed a free pass on tough questions."
In particular, Nadler said former Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to answer questions, saying the president might want to invoke executive privilege. Fearing Whitaker may do the same, Nadler provided him with a list of questions last month the panel may ask. It also asked him to notify the committee if he planned to raise any privilege issues 48 hours in advance of the hearing.
The 48-hour deadline has passed with no response, Nadler said, suggesting Whitaker is prepared to answer all questions Friday. If Whitaker fails to appear, the committee could issue the subpoena.
"When we invite officials to testify before this committee, they have to appear," he said. "When we ask them questions, they have to provide us with answer -- or provide us with a valid and clearly articulated reason to withhold certain information.
"Without the threat of a subpoena, I believe it may be difficult to hold Mr. Whitaker to this standard."
Whitaker said he'd already "agreed to voluntarily appear," and the subpoena resolution breached that agreement.
"I remain willing to appear to testify ... provided that the chairman assures me that the committee will not issue a subpoena," Whitaker said in a statement Thursday. "And that the committee will engage in good faith negotiations before taking such a step down the road.
"Political theater is not the purpose of an oversight hearing, and I will not allow that to be the case."
The hearing could be one of Whitaker's final appearances as acting attorney general. The Senate judiciary committee on Thursday narrowly approved Trump's appointee to the position, William Barr. The panel voted 12-10 along party lines to approve his nomination, which now moves to the full Senate for a floor vote next week.