Kinzinger ‘disgusted’ with ‘send her back’ chants

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger said he was “disgusted” with a crowd’s chant of “send her back” at President Donald Trump’s campaign rally Wednesday night in Greenville, N.C.

Targeting four minority Democratic congresswomen – the self-described “squad” – Trump told the crowd: “Tonight I have a suggestion for the hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down. They never have anything good to say. That’s why I say, ‘Hey if you don’t like it, let ‘em leave, let ‘em leave.’”

Trump’s jabs were aimed at Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All were born in the U.S. except for Omar, who came to the U.S. as a child after fleeing Somalia with her family. The freshman lawmakers have garnered attention since their arrival in January for their outspoken liberal views and distaste for Trump.

Taking the legislators on one at a time, Trump ticked through a laundry list of what he deemed offensive comments by each woman.

Omar came under the harshest criticism, drawing a chant from the crowd of “Send her back! Send her back!”

Kinzinger offered up a nonspecific criticism of what he called “the extreme left” before adding his thoughts on the Trump crowd’s chant.

“I deeply disagree with the extreme left & have been disgusted by their tone,” Kinzinger, R-Channahon, tweeted Thursday morning. “I woke up today equally disgusted – chants like ‘send her back’ are ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers. This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union.”

Omar responded Wednesday night with a series of tweets, including one quoting Maya Angelou’s defiant poem, “Still I Rise,” with the words “You may shoot me with your words ... But still, like air, I’ll rise.”

“I am where I belong, at the people’s house, and you’re just gonna have to deal!” she wrote in another.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump said he was unhappy with his supporters chanting “send her back.”

Speaking in the Oval Office, Trump claimed he tried to stop the chant. Video shows the president pausing his remarks, appearing to drink in the uproar and not admonishing his supporters as they chanted.

“I was not happy with it,” Trump said a day later when some prominent Republicans criticized the chant at the president’s re-election event. He said he “would certainly try” to stop the chant should it return at a subsequent rally.

Trump set off a firestorm Sunday when he tweeted: “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly ...

“... and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how....”

“... it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”

The Democratic-led House Tuesday voted, 240-187, in favor of condemning Trump’s comments – four of them Republicans. The resolution carries no legal repercussions.

Kinzinger, R-Channahon, who voted “no,” said his Democratic colleagues “continued to sow this chaos for political points.” The congressman said in an earlier statement that Trump’s tweets were wrong and divisive, adding “we as a nation have to demand better from our elected officials, on both sides of the aisle.”

Kinzinger expanded on the reasoning behind his vote and his thoughts on the president’s tweets during WCMY 1430’s morning show Thursday, saying he believes the Democrats could’ve earned Republican support on the resolution.

“There were a lot of us that disagreed with tone of the tweet. And really the tone of politics,” Kinzinger said.

He pointed to the resolution’s headline: “Trump’s racist tweet.”

“I think there’s really room to argue whether the tweet was racist or just inappropriate. Also in House rules … you cannot call the president a racist ... To say the president’s tweet was racist … I mean everything’s being called racist nowadays. I think it was an inappropriate tweet, I don’t think it was necessarily racist.”

Aside from violating House rules, Kinzinger said the resolution was forced through the process.

“We hold decorum on the floor; if that breaks down, I really do fear for the future.”

He said the biggest untold story is that lawmakers do get along personally, but on both sides of the aisle, it’s become about winning.

“It’s all about extracting revenge,” he said. “Eventually there has to be an understanding on both sides that you can’t win everything; politics is not zero sum …

“I think Americans are fatigued, my district is fatigued; they’re tired of us being Hollywood.”

However, Kinzinger doesn’t believe all is lost. “I think we can always walk it back. ... If I wasn’t optimistic, I wouldn’t be doing this. It starts with people demanding more of their congressmen and legislators.”

Trump expanded on his criticisms in Greenville.

Among his complaints against Tlaib, Trump correctly reported that she had referred to the president by the “F-word,” saying that, “That’s not nice, even for me.”

Trump himself had unloaded a vulgarity earlier in his speech, denouncing the Russia probe of his campaign and administration as “b------t.”

As for Ocasio-Cortez, Trump fumbled over her name and said, “I don’t have time to go with three different names.” He then referred to her as just “Cortez” as he challenged her complaints about dire conditions at migrant detention centers at the border.

In a lighter moment, Trump wondered if Pressley was related to Elvis Presley, then pivoted to more serious points, claiming she thought people of color should “think the same.”

As for Omar, Trump unfurled a whole list of complaints, including a false accusation that she voiced pride in al-Qaida.

Before he left Washington, Trump said he has no regrets about his ongoing spat with the four. Trump told reporters he thinks he’s “winning the political argument” and “winning it by a lot.”

“If people want to leave our country, they can. If they don’t want to love our country, if they don’t want to fight for our country, they can,” Trump said. “I’ll never change on that.”

The four minority Democratic freshmen have portrayed the Republican president as a bully who wants to “vilify” not only immigrants but all people of color. They say they are fighting for their priorities to lower health care costs and pass a Green New Deal addressing climate change while his thundering attacks are a distraction and tear at the core of American values.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report

Rep. Adam Kinzinger 'disgusted' with chants of 'send her back'

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger said he was "disgusted" with a crowd's chant of "send her back" at President Donald Trump's campaign rally Wednesday night in Greenville, N.C.

Targeting four minority Democratic congresswomen – the self-described "squad" – Trump told the crowd: "Tonight I have a suggestion for the hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down. They never have anything good to say. That's why I say, 'Hey if you don't like it, let 'em leave, let 'em leave.'"

Trump's jabs were aimed at Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All were born in the U.S. except for Omar, who came to the U.S. as a child after fleeing Somalia with her family. The freshman lawmakers have garnered attention since their arrival in January for their outspoken liberal views and distaste for Trump.

Taking the legislators on one at a time, Trump ticked through a laundry list of what he deemed offensive comments by each woman.

Omar came under the harshest criticism, drawing a chant from the crowd of "Send her back! Send her back!"

Kinzinger offered up a non-specific criticism of what he called "the extreme left" before adding his thoughts on the Trump crowd's chant.

"I deeply disagree with the extreme left & have been disgusted by their tone," Kinzinger, R-Channahon, tweeted Thursday morning. "I woke up today equally disgusted - chants like 'send her back' are ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers. This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union."

Omar responded Wednesday night with a series of tweets, including one quoting Maya Angelou's defiant poem, "Still I Rise," with the words "You may shoot me with your words... But still, like air, I'll rise."

"I am where I belong, at the people's house and you're just gonna have to deal!" she wrote in another.

Trump set off a firestorm Sunday when he tweeted: "So interesting to see 'Progressive' Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly......

"....and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how...."

"....it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!"

The Democratic-led House Tuesday voted 240-187 in favor of condemning Trump's comments — four of them Republicans. The resolution carries no legal repercussions.

Kinzinger, R-Channahon, who voted "no," said his Democratic colleagues "continued to sow this chaos for political points." The congressman said in an earlier statement Trump's tweets were wrong and divisive, adding "we as a nation have to demand better from our elected officials, on both sides of the aisle."

Trump expanded on his criticisms in Greenville.

Among his complaints against Tlaib, Trump correctly reported that she had referred to the president by the "F-word," adding, "That's not nice, even for me." Trump himself had unloaded a vulgarity earlier in his speech, denouncing the Russia probe of his campaign and administration as "bulls---."

As for Ocasio-Cortez, Trump fumbled over her name and declared, "I don't have time to go with three different names." He then referred to her as just "Cortez" as he challenged her complaints about dire conditions at migrant detention centers at the border.

In a lighter moment, Trump wondered if Pressley was related to Elvis Presley, then pivoted to more serious points, claiming she thought people of color should "think the same."

As for Omar, Trump unfurled a whole list of complaints, including a false accusation that she voiced pride in al-Qaida.

Before he left Washington, Trump said he has no regrets about his ongoing spat with the four. Trump told reporters he thinks he's "winning the political argument" and "winning it by a lot."

"If people want to leave our country, they can. If they don't want to love our country, if they don't want to fight for our country, they can," Trump said. "I'll never change on that."

The four minority Democratic freshmen have portrayed the Republican president as a bully who wants to "vilify" not only immigrants but all people of color. They say they are fighting for their priorities to lower health care costs and pass a Green New Deal addressing climate change while his thundering attacks are a distraction and tear at the core of American values.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report

New faces in different gov’t places

If you look around at governing bodies within DeKalb County this month, you’re sure to see at least three new faces.

DeKalb resident Terri Mann-Lamb was tapped to fill the empty District 7 seat on the DeKalb County Board on June 19, Sycamore resident James Chyllo was appointed to fill the vacant Cortland Township seat on the Sycamore School District Board on June 25 and Fox River Grove resident Art Osten was hired as Genoa’s part-time city administrator in May.

Members of the governing bodies who selected Mann-Lamb and Chyllo have said they will bring a fresh perspective as they join colleagues who have been in government for years. Neither have formal government experience, while Osten brings with him more than a decade of city manager experience

Terri Mann-Lamb

A New Jersey native who moved to DeKalb in 1996 to raise her three children, Terri Mann-Lamb said she fell in love with the area’s small-town feel.

Mann-Lamb has volunteered with organizations such as the former Welcome Cafe, which served DeKalb residents every other month at Unitarian Church, and is a U.S. Army veteran. She runs the bakery at the Northern Illinois University food services on campus.

She said she believes county Democrats chose her because she can bring a new perspective to the board.

James Chyllo

James Chyllo, 36, has volunteered within the Sycamore School District for a number of activities over the years and brings a mix of experience as a banker and father to his position on the school board. He said he has lived in Sycamore all his life and has twin children who will enter first grade in the fall.

Chyllo is the associate director of branch operations for DuPage Credit Union.

He said he is going to devote his time to learning as much as he can about the board and the district before the next board meeting July 16.

Art Osten

Art Osten is the third administrator Genoa has hired from McHenry County. Hired in May, Osten has since been meeting with elected officials, department heads and business leaders in town.

Osten has two master’s degrees in Public Policy & Administration and Urban & Regional Planning from the University of Wisconsin and 14 years as village administrator of Fox River Grove.

He said his plan is to create a prioritized list of goals and familiarize himself with the city.

Bipartisan energy efficiency measure backed by Kinzinger

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, announced his support for a bipartisan bill to encourage energy efficiency in federal buildings.

The Energy Savings Through Public-Private Partnerships Act of 2019 would encourage the use of Energy Savings Performance Contracts and Utility Energy Savings Contracts in which private companies use their own money and resources to upgrade federal buildings, according to a news release.

Although mandatory federal audits already outline projects aimed at reducing energy consumption and saving tax dollars, federal agencies are not required to implement these changes. The legislation changes this by requiring the projects, at least half of which must be paid for by ESPC’s or UESC’s.

“We cannot continue to operate these outdated, energy-inefficient federal facilities,” Kinzinger said in the release. “Our bipartisan, bicameral legislation is a commonsense solution to help end wasteful spending on inefficient energy buildings in order to deliver savings to the American taxpayers who are footing these energy bills.”

The bill also would expand the types of savings that can be used to repay the contracts to keep pace with changes in technology and energy markets. In exchange for making energy efficient upgrades, the private companies receive a portion of the money saved from increased efficiency.

Sycamore City Council expedites fire engine purchase

SYCAMORE – A weekend fire played into City Council’s decision to let the Sycamore Fire Department expedite the purchase of a new fire engine.

The council unanimously approved a consideration to buy a replacement fire engine through a purchasing cooperative agreement during its meeting Monday. The department will work with one of two cooperatives to purchase an engine with a water capacity of 3,000 gallons for an estimated $550,000. It will replace the 30-year-old Engine 4.

Assistant Fire Chief Todd Turner told council members that it didn’t matter whether firefighters who responded to Saturday morning’s fire had a new truck, they would have run out of water. However, an engine with a higher capacity than Engine 4’s 2,000 gallons would have helped, he said.

Firefighters responded at 3 a.m. Saturday to a fire at a Sycamore home. No injuries were reported, but the fire was estimated to have caused $150,000 in damage.

“We had our hands full when we pulled up there,” Turner said. “Unfortunately, we ended up running out of water, but we were able to knock down the main body of the fire.”

The agreement will allow the department to work with Texas-based HGACBuy or Minnesota-based Sourcewell to secure a cheaper price on a Rosenbauer pumper-tanker. A previous purchasing cooperative agreement saved the fire department $5,000 on an ambulance, according to the council’s meeting agenda.

“We’ve seen better prices through the cooperative then we have even through our bidding process,” City Manager Brian Gregory said.

Engine 4 was purchased in 1989 and was meant for rural communities because of the truck’s high water capacity, Turner said. Now faced with a growing rural population, the department needs a newer truck that can hold more.

The department will sell Engine 4 to offset the cost of the half-million-dollar truck it plans to purchase. The city and the Fire Protection District will also provide $365,000.

Other business

The City Council unanimously approved an ordinance amendment Monday to prohibit parking along the west side of Locust Street between Exchange Street and Sycamore Street. The amendment was put forward after DeKalb County installed a curb along Locust Street, according to the council’s meeting agenda.

Public Works has installed a drive-up water-bill drop box in front of the Public Works building, 475 N. Cross St., Public Works Director Fred Busse said. The two other boxes at the old Water Department building, 202 E. Page St., will remain active until July 19, Busse said.

DeKalb resident tapped to fill vacant County Board seat

SYCAMORE – DeKalb County Democrats have chosen a candidate to fill the County Board seat left vacant by the resignation Misty Haji-Sheikh. The board will vote June 11 on whether to approve Terri Mann-Lamb for the District 7 seat.

DeKalb County Democratic Central Committee Chairman Jim Luebke said Mann-Lamb, one of three eligible candidates in the district, is the right person for the job despite having no previous government experience.

“She’s open to change and new ideas,” Luebke said. “She’s all for making sure every voter gets a vote, good government and honesty, unlike the current White House.”

County Democrats selected Mann-Lamb as their candidate May 12. Haji-Sheikh announced her resignation at a board meeting March 20, but served through the May 15 board meeting.

Mann-Lamb, 53, is a New Jersey native who moved to DeKalb in 1996 to raise her three children in a smaller community. She said she immediately fell in love with the area and began volunteering with organizations such as the former Welcome Cafe, which served DeKalb residents every other month at Unitarian Church.

“I care about the city I live in and the town and the county,” Mann-Lamb said.

She said she believes county Democrats chose her because she can bring a new perspective to the board.

“With our current political situation in the world, I think that people have to be ready for more diversity and you see a lot of things going backward and you want to pull things forward,” Mann-Lamb said.

She said her potential role in government will be new to her, although she’s encouraged by the board’s history of bipartisanship.

“I’ll be learning,” Mann-Lamb said. “I was excited to hear the parties on the board are very amicable to each other and talk. That’s comforting to know that because I stopped watching the news for a while because it was just violent.”

Mann-Lamb runs the bakery at the Northern Illinois University food services on campus. She also performs in a Unitarian choir group. She served in the U.S. Army from 1984 to 1990.

“If it were up to me, I’d still probably be in the military,” Mann-Lamb said.

Her one super power is being able to feed people well, she said. She’s been a cook in one form or another from the military to volunteering at the former Welcome Cafe, and hopes to bring that same level of passion to serving the county.

“You get older in life, you see things differently,” Mann-Lamb said. “Your first goal is to have children, and as they grow up and move on, you’re left with your life and the things around it that you want to elevate and keep good and always work on for improvement.”

Schiff: Pelosi 'absolutely right' to hold back impeachment

WASHINGTON – A key House investigator said Tuesday that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is "absolutely right" to hold back on impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff sided with Pelosi, who said Democrats shouldn't pursue impeachment unless there's overwhelming and bipartisan support for doing so. Her comments to The Washington Post riled some liberals, including new lawmakers who helped flip the chamber to Democratic control.

Together, Pelosi and Schiff's remarks are designed to signal to outspoken Democrats in the House that senior lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled House aren't behind any drive to impeach Trump. The delicate issue returned to the surface after a week of ugly dispute in Pelosi's ranks over how to word a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim discrimination.

Schiff, whose committee has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, told reporters an impeachment effort seen as partisan would be doomed.

"A bipartisan process would have to be extra clear and compelling," Schiff told reporters. "I think the speaker is absolutely right. In its absence, an impeachment partisan becomes a partisan exercise doomed for failure. And I see little to be gained by putting the country through that kind of wrenching experience."

In remarks published Monday by The Washington Post, Pelosi made clear that she thinks Trump is not fit for office. But she said based on what's known now and the fact that the country is not behind any effort to remove him, "I'm not for impeachment," she said.

"Unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path, because it divides the country," Pelosi said.

It's a departure from her previous comments that Democrats are waiting on special counsel Robert Mueller to lay out findings from his Russia investigation before considering impeachment.

"We're just starting the investigation. And it's not going to stop," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. "We're going to make sure we don't provide sort of an open playbook for people to just continue to sit in the Oval Office and not uphold the Constitution."

Schiff spoke at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Pelosi has long resisted calls to impeach the president, saying it's a "divisive" issue that should only be broached with "great care."

She refused calls when she first held the speaker's gavel, in 2007, to start impeachment proceedings against George W. Bush. Having been a member of Congress during President Bill Clinton's impeachment, she saw the way the public turned on Republicans and helped Clinton win a second term. Heading into the midterm elections, she discouraged candidates from talking up impeachment, preferring to stick to the kitchen table issues that she believes most resonate with voters.

Pelosi has said the House should not pursue impeachment for political reasons, but it shouldn't hold back for political reasons, either. Rather, she says, the investigations need to take their course and impeachment, if warranted, will be clear.

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Associated Press Writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.

Street maintenance funds for fiscal 2020 on Sycamore council agenda

SYCAMORE – The Sycamore City Council will continue fiscal 2020 budget talks by discussing proposed street maintenance projects during its meeting Monday.

Sycamore City Manager Brian Gregory said 17 maintenance projects, including surface removal and overlay at Sycamore and California streets, are included in the proposal. If the City Council approves them, staff will be able to prepare bid documents for the projects, and bids likely will go out in April.

Concrete sidewalks projects would be addressed in the spring, street microsurfacing would be done in the summer, and cracks would be filled in the fall, Gregory said.

“That’s one of the priorities that [the] council has, is to continue to invest in infrastructure,” Gregory said.

Other proposed fiscal 2020 budget subject matters that will be covered Monday include the city’s downtown facade and gateway improvement project. Gregory said one change the city will make is limiting applicants to only one grant per building every three years, as opposed to the current two-year period.

Gregory said there will be no additional costs to residents as a result of these proposed budget items, including no tax increases. He said the facade and gateway programs are funded by the city’s hotel and motel tax revenue, and city’s road and sidewalk maintenance projects are funded by sales tax, motor fuel tax and video gaming tax revenues.

A public hearing for the full city budget and its first reading is scheduled for April 1. The scheduled second reading and adoption of the budget will be April 15.

Gregory said the City Council also will vote on the city’s updated liquor code, which hasn’t been changed since it last was discussed during the Feb. 18 meeting. He said the council also will vote on collective bargaining agreements for International Association of Firefighters Local 3046 and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3957.

“After a few bargaining sessions and looking at comparable communities, the state of the economy and our budget, we were able to come to an agreement that I believe is fair for employees and the city organization,” Gregory said.

The City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Monday at the Sycamore Center, 308 W. State St.

Kinzinger: Situation at U.S.-Mexico border a 'crisis'

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, called the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border a "crisis" a couple of weeks after his Air Force National Guard unit was deployed there.

In a post on his campaign Facebook page, he said he's been flying missions on the border, and what he's seen has led him to agree about the severity of the situation there.

"I'll keep it simple — the situation on our border is a crisis," Kinzinger wrote. "I've never seen it this bad."

Kinzinger further described the situation there saying there were cartels attempting to bring drugs into the U.S., human traffickers attempting to smuggle innocent people and sometimes abandoning them in the desert. He said they saved a woman who had been left to die. He added there were also "countless other breaches at the weakest points on our border."

"For anyone hell bent on believing otherwise, despite the prevailing evidence, I wish you could see what my squadron and I did," Kinzinger wrote. "It's a nightmare down there."

Kinzinger called on everyone to "rise above politics and do what's best for our country."

"Look, I get that some people can't handle agreeing with the president," he wrote. "If he says 'there's a crisis,' they say it's 'manufactured.' But I can tell you from firsthand experience, and as someone who has had some disagreements with our president: The crisis is real."

Acting U.S. attorney general says he has not hampered Mueller probe

WASHINGTON – Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said on Friday that he has "not interfered in any way" in the special counsel's Russia investigation as he faced a contentious and partisan congressional hearing in his waning days on the job.

The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was the first, and likely only, chance for newly empowered Democrats in the majority to grill an attorney general they perceive as a Donald Trump loyalist and whose appointment they suspect was aimed at suppressing investigations of the Republican president. They confronted Whitaker on his past criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller's work and his refusal to recuse himself from overseeing it, attacked him over his prior business dealings and sneeringly challenged his credentials as the country's chief law enforcement officer.

"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," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. When Whitaker tried to respond, the New York Democrat interrupted, "Mr. Whitaker, that was a statement, not a question. I assume you know the difference."

Yet Democrats yielded no new information about the status of the Mueller probe as Whitaker repeatedly refused to discuss conversations with the president or answer questions that he thought might reveal details. Though clearly exasperated – he drew gasps when he told the committee chairman that his five-minute time limit for questions was up – Whitaker nonetheless sought to assuage Democratic concerns by insisting he had never discussed the Mueller probe with Trump or other White House officials, and that there'd been no change in its "overall management."

"We have followed the special counsel's regulations to a T," Whitaker said. "There has been no event, no decision, that has required me to take any action, and I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel's investigation."

Republicans made clear they viewed the hearing as pointless political grandstanding, especially since Whitaker may have less than a week left in the job, and some respected his wishes by asking questions about topics other than Mueller's probe into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. The Senate is expected to vote as soon as next week on confirming William Barr, Trump's pick for attorney general.

"I'm thinking about maybe we just set up a popcorn machine in the back because that's what this is becoming," said Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia. "It's becoming a show."

But Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the committee chairman who a day earlier had threatened to subpoena Whitaker to ensure his appearance, left no doubt about his party's focus.

"You decided that your private interest in overseeing this particular investigation – and perhaps others from which you should have been recused – was more important than the integrity of the department," said Nadler, of New York. "The question that this committee must now ask is: Why?"

Whitaker toggled between defending his role in the special counsel's investigation and echoing the president's talking points, conceding for instance that while foreign interference in U.S. elections was a problem, so too was voter fraud – a key issue for Republicans, but one that Democrats say is overstated. He said he had no reason to doubt Mueller's honesty and or to believe that he was conflicted in his leadership of the department.

But he also declined to say if he still agreed with sharply critical comments about the Mueller investigation that he made as a television commentator before arriving at the Justice Department in the fall of 2017 as chief of staff to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And he passed up a chance to break from the president's characterization of the Mueller investigation as a "witch hunt," saying simply, "I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment on an ongoing investigation."

FBI Director Christopher Wray, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Barr have all maintained that they do not believe the investigation to be a witch hunt.

White House officials kept an eye on Whitaker's performance and, while they appreciated his combative tone and aggressive defense of the administration, there was a sense from aides that his performance, at times, appeared halting and ill-prepared. The president himself kept an eye on the proceedings as well before leaving the White House for his annual physical.

Whitaker laid the groundwork for a likely tussle with Democrats by saying in his opening statement that while he would address their questions, he would not reveal details of his communications with Trump.

"I trust that the members of this committee will respect the confidentiality that is necessary to the proper functioning of the presidency – just as we respect the confidentiality necessary to the legislative branch," Whitaker said.

Democrats also inquired about Whitaker's past business dealings. Nadler and three other House committee chairmen released documents that they said show Whitaker failed to return thousands of dollars that were supposed to be distributed to victims of a company's alleged fraud. Whitaker has come under scrutiny for his involvement with the invention promotion company, which was accused of misleading consumers.

Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney from Iowa, took over when Sessions was forced from the Cabinet last November as Trump seethed over Sessions' decision to step aside from overseeing the Russia investigation. Trump insists there was "no collusion" between his campaign and Russia.

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Associated Press writers Chad Day and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.