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Matthew Whitaker's five minutes are up

Dana Milbank on

WASHINGTON -- Matthew G. Whitaker runs hot.

During the acting attorney general's previous major public appearance, a Justice Department news conference, he perspired with the output of an oscillating sprinkler. Testifying before Congress for the first time Friday -- an appearance he had threatened Thursday to skip -- Whitaker again overheated: An angry scarlet rose up the back of Whitaker's neck as new House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.. asked him about his actions toward special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Whitaker's responses were barbed accusations: "What's the basis for that question?" "Again, what is the basis?" "Can you tell me where you get the basis?"

As Nadler continued, Whitaker, alleging Democrats relied on "mere speculation," noticed a red light had gone on. "Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up," the witness said.

Actually, Whitaker is the one whose five minutes are about to be up.

He'll be relieved of his temporary duties in days, assuming William P. Barr is confirmed, ending the improbable tenure of an accidental attorney general. Before joining the Trump administration, Whitaker hawked hot tubs for a company that shut down and reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. His main qualification to be attorney general, it appeared, was criticizing Mueller on TV.

 

In a broader sense, Friday's raucous, six-hour hearing was a vivid reminder that time has run out for the Trump administration. For two years, the GOP majority shielded Trump administration incompetence and worse from public view. That ends now.

The scrutiny by the House's new Democratic majority won't necessarily stop bungling and impropriety, but now such behavior will no longer happen in darkness. On Thursday, the House held a subcommittee hearing that revealed that Trump administration officials were warned that separating migrant families would be traumatic and probably illegal. Also Thursday, a Ways and Means Committee panel probed ways to release Trump's tax returns. Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen will meet with the House Intelligence Committee soon.

Trump is in a rage over the scrutiny, decrying "ridiculous partisan investigations" at his State of the Union address Tuesday night and tweeting since then about "a GIANT AND ILLEGAL HOAX," "a continuation of [a] Witch Hunt" and "PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT." Alleged Trump: "The Dems and their committees are going 'nuts.' The Republicans never did this to President Obama."

No? Republicans launched scores of probes into Benghazi, Planned Parenthood, Internal Revenue Service targeting, Operation Fast and Furious, Hillary Clinton's emails, Solyndra, Obamacare and more, with two select committees, hundreds of subpoenas and hearings into their final days in power.

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