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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker put on a performance today that's likely to leave plenty of top Trump officials even less excited about the prospect of their day on Capitol Hill.

In what the NYT called a "remarkable breach of decorum," Whitaker drew stunned laughs in the room with this response to a question from House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler, a Democrat: “Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up.” Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee later retorted: “Mr. Attorney General, we are not joking here ... And your humor is not acceptable.”

The big picture: After two years of being left alone by Republicans, Trumpworld is staring down the barrel at two grueling years of no-win situations before House committees.

  • If you play nice, President Trump has shown plenty of willingness to publicly go after his own people.
  • But if you play not-so-nice, as Whitaker did at times today, you can expect even more scrutiny from subpoena-empowered Democrats.

Highlights from Whitaker's hearing, per the NYT:

  • "Whitaker declined to defend the special counsel’s investigation," a break from Jeff Sessions and AG-nominee William Barr.
  • "Whitaker declared that he had 'not interfered in any way' in the special counsel investigation and that he had provided no information about it to President Trump or White House officials."
  • "Whitaker said multiple times that he did not discuss the Mueller investigation with anyone at the White House, even though in July 2017 he interviewed to become a White House lawyer who would manage and respond to that inquiry."

Axios' Scott Rosenberg emails:

  • "What struck me was simply the public display of independent elected officials attempting to hold a Trump administration officer accountable, without being overruled by a GOP committee chairman or having to fight for every question."

The bottom line: Expect more exchanges like this one, flagged by Axios' Alexi McCammond.

  • Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: "I’m confused, I really am. We’re all trying to figure out, who are you? Where did you come from? And how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice? Hopefully you can help me work through this confusion."
  • *Whitaker started responding..* 
  • Jeffries: "Mr. Whitaker, this was a statement, not a question, I am sure you know the difference." And then he later told him: “Keep your hands off the Mueller investigation.”

Go deeper

2 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Anthony Coley to lead Justice Department public affairs

The U.S. Department of Justice building in Washington, D.C. Photo: Xinhua/Ting Shen via Getty Images

Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, has tapped Anthony Coley, an Obama-era Treasury Department official, to serve as a senior adviser and lead public affairs at the Department of Justice, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: As the public face of the DOJ, Coley will help explain — and defend — the department's actions, from sensitive cases to prosecutorial decisions, including the investigation into Hunter Biden.

AP: Justice Dept. rescinds "zero tolerance" policy

A young girl waves to onlookers through the fence at the US-Mexico border wall at Friendship Park in San Ysidro, California in Nov. 2018. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden's acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson issued a memo on Tuesday to revoke the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, which separated thousands of migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, AP first reported.

Driving the news: A recent report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz emphasized the internal chaos at the agency over the implementation of the policy, which resulted in 545 parents separated from their children as of October 2020.

Biden picks up his pen to change the tone on racial equity

Vice President Harris looks on as President Biden signs executive orders related to his racial equity agenda. Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden is making a down payment on racial equity in a series of executive orders dealing with everything from private prisons to housing discrimination, treatment of Asian Americans and relations with indigenous tribes.

The big picture: Police reform and voting rights legislation will take time to pass in Congress. But with the stroke of his pen, one week into the job, Biden is taking steps within his power as he seeks to change the tone on racial justice from the Trump administration.