Acting attorney general's fiery hearing

Matthew Whitaker is grilled by the House Judiciary Committee and Virginia's governor faces intense pressure to resign.
25:48 | 02/08/19

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Transcript for Acting attorney general's fiery hearing
And. Everybody happy Friday welcome to the briefing room here at ABC news on Devin Dwyer very busy day today up on Capitol Hill. Are glad to have you with us for a start. With the acting attorney general in the hot seat now if you care about the Russian investigation. You're hoping for that thing to be handled professionally impartially. That you want to hear what the man who's been overseeing it for the past three months has to say this is the first time that acting attorney general Matt Whitaker. He's gotten grilled by congress he's been three months on the job. In six days ago and boy there were some fireworks today. From Democrats who want to make sure he has not interfered. With Robert Mueller is probe are pure Thomas Chief Justice correspondent has been in the room for this it's. Going on six hours now here are your just outside. We're the attorney general appears to be wrapping up. Oh what's your impression so far he seemed to repeat over and over again for the first time on the record that he has not interfered in anyway. But I guess the key word I would use today would be in tents to Democrats today simply were questioning the man's integrity. They requesting how he got the job they were questioning whether he's done anything to impede the special counsel. And you put it really was all about how he came to become. Are they acting attorney general after general sessions attorney general sessions. Was forced out of the job. And intense it was let's take a list of the listen to one of the opening exchanges between chairman Jerry Nadler Democrat of New York. And the acting attorney general they were Spartan sparing it very early on today take a listen. Now. In your capacity is acting attorney general have you ever been asked to approve any requested action to be taken by the special counsel. Mr. chairman I see your five minutes is up and so. We we we we I mean I'm who voluntarily. We have agreed to five minute rounds. Committee and that's a bomb placed in the five minerals they committee will end. Rule will will will come to order only very specific about this mr. chairman accepted it's gonna lie a lot of fears. That it existed. Among this committee among the legislative branch largely in and maybe among some American people we have followed a special counsel's regulations to a T. There's been no event no decision that is required me. To take any action and I have not interfere in any way with the special counsel's investigation. It appeared those assurances aside Democrats today really seemed to zero win. On would occur statements from a couple weeks ago where he said. That Mueller was close to finishing its report and that those decisions would be reviewed today Democrats wanted that explain but. He didn't really elaborate on what he meant by reviewing Muller's decisions that he. And he did not and here's a key as the acting attorney general he's not recuse himself from the investigation so. He has final say on anything in regarding the special counsel at this point. Now the backdrop here for our viewers at home in people watching this is that. He had been a commentator as a private citizen before he came to top administration. And in that time he had some very critical things to say about the special counsel investigation. In truth or whether it was so. Appropriate. Whether there had been any evidence of wrong doing found so. Basically the Democrats who say given that. How can you. Claim now it's true and impartial and unbiased in connection to this investigation that you know perceived. And here you know. We also know that they've they've issued your threatens some subpoenas. Of Matt would occur to answer some of these questions sounds like he may be coming back to be deposed under wrote again perhaps before he. Leaves office. But all of this question mean around Robert Mueller wasn't the only subject that brought up today to tell us what else popped in the hearing in India also. Describe some of those tense moments around the family separations policy. Which Whitaker had a hand in at the southern border. One of the most dramatic in heated moments is one of the wounded congresswoman. Pressed him on the family separation. Issue in terms and could thing properly track. The children have been separated from their families. And she just was not satisfied. With the answer this she was getting from the acting attorney general. And she made that clear to him two exasperated and this thing that you could literally cut the tension in the amendment was that. Yeah pretty powerful moment your Thomas thanks so much room Porta lets you get back in there and you have much more reporting to do and we'll be. Our reporting tonight on world news and world news prime here and ABC news lightning slop here. Are shifting gears now to anyone any other major stories of this week happening across the river over in Virginia of course the political turmoil that has gripped. The state of Virginia and the top. Three political officials in that state. It's now been exactly one week since that racist picture appeared in the yearbook of governor Ralph north them. Hot in if there's one thing this past week has taught us it's that black face. Has been a phenomenon that has shown striking persistence on the campuses of American colleges and universities stretching. Into the 191990s. And to talk a little bit more today about black face in its place in American society a conversation that's been going on all week I want to bring in. Leader right we're grew worse she's an assistant professor of public policy at Harvard University. The Kennedy school of government she's also historian of race. An American politics it's great to see you Rea thanks for coming and as a student of history myself. It I think what I think a black face I think of the the late nineteenth century early twentieth century but I've sort of a surprise this week to see so many examples instances of it. Popping up not just in the eighty's and ninety's but very recently why is this still happening. We've seen a lot of incidents labs will you well we know. In. Multiple industries. I night. I'm we shouldn't necessarily recent high that is happening is any treaty and it's so every year we are out doesn't particularly around Halloween dozens of incidents. A last we hear in and you know connect 82 people in public officials you know if we were to content through. Every year mark in America. Noon probably buying a lot of or nine images. You would not eat. Nothing near. Now why does it percent lot of reasons it continues there's. You know leaders. One aspect. Racial ignorance serious news. People eating now this. Governor nor mention racial your. But at the same name. Here's an exclusive understanding. I'm black beast is. Dehumanizing. And violent. So actually explaining explaining what time. We thank you meet people actress you were engaging in knowing. It just didn't think it would. Yeah is in in Ralph north and as you eluded to there I'm thinking back to the press conference he had last weekend sort of admitted as much he said look. We came out shocked everybody and said that he would put on shoe polish for Michael Jackson contests in the eighties he said he he's in his words he's still learning he didn't. Think at that time that this was an offensive thing how do you explain to people out there particular in the middle the country's southern parts of the country. Who simply do you know younger people who didn't grow up in that generation how do you explain why that's so offensive how to help us. It's sort of hone that message for our audience. Laundry. Is away or ridicule mock and we'll leave she would nine's. He used to dehumanized. Racial groups and wow look at Latinos. And Asian Americans appear and I need Americans seek different incidents. And lack age she'll be based on. You know it's still. Is that. We are as a human eye is pretty sure that mocks perceptual alliance's African Americans see just African Americans. I'm aren't here year it also a war or violence why be times you treat people on our. I know agree I. When you are able to human. There's a connection right here between these grounds on. Historical connection. Between black face and violence. And looked. At them in each race. Next. We've seen it be so swiftly condemned in Virginia that was interest in wind brought Ralph North Adams photograph the racist photograph appeared. Last Friday one week ago in his medical school your book. And then we learned of course about the attorney general who admitted he also had had an experience of black face. That what do you think about the instant reaction we've seen there from so many Democrats national to state level. That this sort of behavior even if 2030 years ago is automatically disqualify him for political office do you think. As summer saying that that's political correctness gone too far. Or do you think that is an appropriate response this teenage. Given that behavior. When I was more all I'm position in recent SAT and act. Laugh and what it represents. It is. All old racist history and that's important answer yes. We'll be so this coming in terms all of these conversations with rats and it. Who won't let it well you know. Politicians and elected officials is shouldn't be disqualifying. Don't work slash violence. And see linked to. The Democrats. Beat more glitzy dance BC well. You must step down because this is that line of shells you know across the now to treat your. Party in the Virginia. Are. Still not work and I am. It's in that's an interest in distinction you make between politics and of course the political platform of the Democratic Party in Virginia also just this moral question. Which of course is also included a discussion this week a forgiveness. Open nest you know one's heart. If you will on the process maybe perhaps that's a different matter. Com if you weren't in politics interesting to see just a few minutes ago actually Ralf North American we have the tweet. Governor of Virginia did tweet for the first time in a week we've heard from a meat treated at a picture. The meeting he's had just this afternoon. In his office down and in Richmond Virginia with the president of national black former association. I their dioceses of enjoy hearing from John Boyd today thanks for your work. On behalf of black farmers so perhaps here rough north and again showing trying to show at least publicly that he's taking these steps. And we shall see how that plays out sort of status quo politically today throughout north them is still governor. Lieutenant governor just in for facts is still there and mark carrying attorney general still sticking in there it's great to have you with this we're right we're gore. From Harvard University think he's so much and I appreciate your perspective. He. And moving on now to another major development that popped overnight here in Washington the Supreme Court weighing in for the first time in a long time. At least with the conservative majority on the court on the issue of abortion they. Overnight delivered a staying in emergency stay of in the Louisiana abortion law that would impose new restrictions on abortion clinics in that state. Porter bring in our legal analyst Kate shot now who joins us by Skype to kind of break this down Kate. Give us your bottom line and what's happened here and what the order means. That the justices approved last night. Sure most of DeVon when president trump picked Brett cap not replace Anthony Kennedy and the big question was what that change might mean for the law on the portion Kennedy. Had voted to uphold Roe vs. Wade on a number of occasions and this is one of the big questions swirling around Kavanagh. Remember when Susan Collins cast the decisive vote in favor. Then judge Kavanagh she said that she had been assured that he that she was confident that he would respect president that he wouldn't cast a vote overturned brokers as it. And I think as you said we now have from last night. Our first evidence of how this newly constituted court might approach a portion and I think it has abortion rights advocates. I'm bode extremely nervous in terms of what judge top justice mosque at in his dissent but also with a glimmer of hope in that chief Justice Roberts George. In the liberal justices on the court to clip is Louisiana law on hold at least for now. So this law would require doctors to have admitting privileges it in your hospital before performing abortions. The court struck down a Texas law that was very similar to this Louisiana law in twenty sixteenths it is about two years ago. And you know now there's a question the court looks different might this law withstand scrutiny even at the Texas law did not end at least for now the answer is the course as the law is on hold. Wall the consideration runs its course in the lower courts and courts supreme court judge Kaplan wrote a dissent chose for himself arguing that the law should be permitted to go into effect and it has a lot of people wondering about what. The future might hold in terms of his boats and abortion cases and in fact just the law proportion more broadly. Yet and to get a little bit more perspective on what this could mean on the ground to lose Louisiana want to bring an Alley Schilling she's an attorney with lift. Louisiana to nonprofit abortion rights advocacy group. That works with the State's four. Abortion clinics many of them were mentioned in indicted in judge Kavanagh has dissent last night it's great to see you -- thank you so much for joining us. I helped us understand for those of us who who haven't been a Louisiana how difficult it is right now for women to access abortion services in that state and how much more difficult would it be. If this laws allowed to go to a fact. I think you for having me. First actually there's only three abortion clinics and are currently providing services in Louisiana. And there are only in asserted the largest cities in the south and the north of the state. So women already have increased driving times over just access that they had. A few years ago look. And then increased wait times that act clinics. Daryn this state also has the highest poverty rates for women and children in the country. So women are fewer are already facing a lot of economic insecurity. In this state that you know won't raise the minimum wage. That will pass legislation on equal okay. So issues health care access are significant already and if this law had gone insurer backed. Benny would have closed most if not all of the clinics in Louisiana. Says those burdens are just dramatically increase Bennett out point. About whether there even is a clinic at all in in this state for women shoot access and then what that looks like in terms of drive times. Wait times on added expense without which needing to spend the night. In a city far away from your home. Those burdens obvious he also all even more heavily on minors. You have less access to resource is less access to transportation. I'm perhaps no accessed U I trusted parental figure that could help them travel. How recede across state lines if if that access and restrictions become severe here. Security drill down with you on that route for second judge Cabot all last night in his dissent sort of as ski was talking about took a middle ground suggesting that. The law as describes your describing it is not perhaps as onerous. As it might seem he seemed to say in his opinion that the three doctors in Louisiana who don't currently have admitting privileges for hospital hospital. Could pretty easily get that within the forty fact they transition period. It's like it's a question is why is it unreasonable to have these three doctors get that those privileges and in all is it really that hard to get the privileges such that it would cost those clinics to close down. Sure I think it's important to understand that those findings that Kavanagh. Sort of focused in on from at this circuit are directly in contrast to the actual findings that the district court found the district court found that. All of the abortion providers had attempted had made numerous attempts to obtain privileges and that they had not been able to yeah. And the reason for that is actually fairly simple. For one thing it's because. Abortion is associate the procedure itself. Has a complication rate ever that complication rate when hospital station is required that's less than 1%. So hospitals don't have any reason that you PN admitting privileges she physicians who are not going to admit patients. There can also be issues for hospitals that sticking draw protesters. Outside their facility if they affiliate with abortion providers. There are state run hospitals or religiously affiliated hospitals. That won't give privileges on cheat to physicians who provide abortions out of just principal. So they're significant barriers and it's unlikely. If not impossible. Promotes abortion providers due obtained admitting privileges and state had applications pending at this point. For for years. So there's no reason to think that in the next 45 days as as as justice Kavanagh. I'm wrote in his dissent that an accurate would change. And quickly Ailey show and thank you for joining us from Louisiana and this perspective is as fascinating. Give us your sense of John and your take and John Roberts he. Of course voted against striking down the similar Texas law but again last night supported the at least temporary stay here how concerned are you. That the Chief Justice could swing the other way we win this case if assuming the case does come before the full panel some time next year. I'm very concerned about that. I'm how are acting that's his is went the liberal wing of the court. Is a very good sign at least that he is concerned about the integrity of the court. And that he would rather put integrity and there were above politics. If they either did not print this day or if they ultimately. Reversed this case on on the merits. Then it will really got us there precedent. Not only row but also the Texas case that you are speaking of the poor woman's house. She's a very recent decision. I'm so I think in its that it is encouraging that the Justice Roberts is is viewing this from a sort of institutional. Respect it. It's very important for the court to send a message fat. It's precedent matters and that lower courts will not be permitted to just ignore works in this supply Supreme Court process. And Kate shop quickly before we let you go. As Ellie is talking about there this precedent back in the spotlight in the cross hairs if you will. What does this Louisiana case tell us about. If forthcoming challenges to Roe vs. Wade in the coming months. Yeah I think this is you know in some ways testing the waters right this law. Is almost identical to the Texas law that the court struck down a couple of years ago if the court. Is willing to reverse course on it wouldn't necessarily reverse row out right I would be surprised if it did it could. Uphold this Louisiana law and got to if not overturned mr. recent case a woman's health out of Texas and that happens then I think. I'm opponents of abortion are going to try very quickly to get a case. Before the Supreme Court that would squarely present the question the constitutionality. Out of the constitutional protection proportion and the future of roe. So I think that all eyes in the near term or when to be just as he sat on chief Justice Roberts the court I think took a real beating in the public on over the course of speech. Very contentious Kavanagh confirmation hearings so I can well imagine the Chief Justice warning. The court to appear removed from politics in the wake of that experience at least for the near term so I think there is reason to believe the Chief Justice may be willing to side not just at this preliminary stage but when or hears the argument. Out week to liberal wing and with abortion rights supporters but I in long term I think that abortion advocates. Have real reason to be concerned that you know justice cap and a really has changed at all on the court for the foreseeable future. Yet this Louisiana case going to be a blockbuster one next year for sure can shot great to see you think you so much have a nice weekend at LA shelling. Attorney with lift Louisiana at great to have you with us as well thank you so much. Finally today it is 20/20 sees it as we've been covering here this week 20/20 pub presidential campaign season that is here in the briefing room and all the candidates many of the candidates descending. On Iowa this weekend believe it or not we're just about a year away from the Iowa Caucuses the first votes. We'll be cast in the presidential campaign just over a year from now. And that's where Rachel Scott issues out on the trail tracking some of the new democratic candidates Richard great to see you know you've been out there. Following mayor people to Chad she's not out there also Cory Booker give us give us the latest. Yeah I would more than 608287. But who's counting rings counting not vetoed this the time where all of these candidates are flocking to Iowa and again this is the key state because it Howell it holds one of the first caucuses in the nation so it sets the tone address the nation I actually just stepped out of the room here because. Senator Cory Booker is quoting a community forum behind you could see through the glass right there we have a shot set up to. Give you a lot I feed inside right now he's meeting with community leaders here in Waterloo. In talking to them and if you and the folks in their told me that this is a very strategic. Move OK so President Obama right after announcing his candidacy for president. In in L in the way this is first stop. In Iowa in Waterloo and being is that. This really. Residents told me that this part of the this part of the state Waterloo really is reflective of the rest of the nation. It is diverse 15% African American big diversity pushed here and it also a lot of manufacturing hubs are here as well and so you have these court issues a minimum wage and health care. Prison reform of you know a mental health I keep coming up in this area and those she seemed to be key issues that we're seeing reflected across the state and in many cases across the country and so this is just one event this is. The senator second event today he's going to be traveling across the state and I'm going to be with him in ho have a few other events in will be bringing those who you ads and reporting on and those events as well. But again where. Over 600 days out and the UREC such a huge push here in Iowa the senator actually has some Iowa roots his maternal grandmother was. Born in Iowa he has an odd that 99 years old that still lives in Iowa and so you know you're seeing him take a really personal approach here but definitely on them among the topics that came up in the air. I would say that minimum wage was huge and senator Cory Booker said he wanted to see an increase in minimum wage test fifteen dollars something that we have heard him say before he made an added push for that and also more. Criminal justice reform. I'm and he touted his efforts on that are ready as a senator but said that more could be done and you want to see more done he applauded the president suffer stepped act. I'm that was an act did but he said he we need to take well you know a larger focus on that and that was definitely one of the concerns here. I'm from residents one resident said unity come island vacation and leave on probation pretty strong words from residents here in Iowa. All right those Waterloo residents getting a taste of Cory Booker many more candidates sure to come through Rachel Scott drive safely out there at snowy. In Iowa hope you have some more boots and they are headed up Amy Klobuchar senator from Minnesota. She is a big announcement that she is making on Sunday so we'll stay tuned for that we'll see cius or not they're Rachel thank you so much. I finally today on this Friday. We got a kick with something a little bit lighter believe it or not. Our old friend John Boehner the Republican former Republican house speaker you remember John Boehner there is. How he's actually making some news today kicking off a national campaign to reform federal candidates laws. He's now the head of the national candidates roundtable he's calling for pot to go mainstream he wants. All federal restrictions lifted on marijuana they want candidates companies to bank and American banks. And make those sales legal coast to coast are at John Boehner. Let's see what you got will be keeping a nine. On that for sure great to have you with us here in a briefing room on this Friday hope you have a great weekend on Devin Dwyer Washington we'll see you next time.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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