WASHINGTON — The former acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker “did not deny” in a private meeting with House lawmakers on Wednesday that he had spoken to President Trump about an investigation in New York that had ensnared the president and his business, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said.
Speaking after the meeting, the chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, presented Mr. Whitaker’s comments as being at odds with his public testimony last month before the Judiciary Committee. In that hearing, Mr. Whitaker generally would not say if he had communicated with the president about the case, which led to charges against Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer.
Mr. Whitaker at the time denied a CNN report that Mr. Trump had yelled at him about the case after Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance charges that implicated Mr. Trump. A report by The New York Times after the February hearing recounted another call between the two men about the case in which Mr. Trump asked about the possibility of putting the United States attorney whom the president had appointed in charge of it.
“Unlike in the hearing room, Mr. Whitaker did not deny that the president called him to discuss the Michael Cohen case and personnel decisions in the Southern District” of New York, Mr. Nadler told reporters.
Democrats are intensely interested in whether the president tried to push Mr. Whitaker, a Trump loyalist, to influence the investigation during his brief tenure. Mr. Nadler called the follow-up interview to clarify portions of Mr. Whitaker’s public testimony.
But Mr. Whitaker’s remarks on Wednesday about his conversations with Mr. Trump about the case appear to have been just as ambiguous and at times contradictory. Republicans in Congress and a Justice Department official in the room, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private interview, offered alternate characterizations of what was said.
“To imply that there’s anything nefarious there is a way overreach of anything that was discussed,” Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the panel, told reporters afterward.
Mr. Nadler said he would have to “analyze the new revelations and see where they lead.”
The Justice Department official and Republican aides to Mr. Collins said that at at least one point Mr. Whitaker told the lawmakers that he did not remember a conversation with the president like the one CNN had described. At another point, he said that he could not discuss his conversations with Mr. Trump.
They also said that Mr. Whitaker told the lawmakers that the White House had never ordered him to undo the recusal of Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York whom the president had appointed but who was not involved in the Cohen campaign finance case.
The Times, though, reported last month that on a call late last year, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Whitaker whether Mr. Berman could be put in charge of the growing campaign finance case — not that he had issued a direction.
CNN’s report in December said that Mr. Trump had yelled at Mr. Whitaker after two developments in the Cohen case: Mr. Cohen’s decision to plead guilty to lying about the Trump Organization’s work on a real estate project in Moscow and the identification of the president as Individual-1 in related plea papers.
The Times also reported that Mr. Whitaker told Justice Department associates that part of his job as acting attorney general was to “jump on a grenade” for Mr. Trump. He also told associates that the New York prosecutors needed “adult supervision.”
Portions of Mr. Whitaker’s private remarks on Wednesday appeared to expand on those statements.
Democratic and Republican aides both said that Mr. Whitaker told them he had discussions as acting attorney general with fellow Justice Department officials about the “scope” of Mr. Berman’s recusal from cases, the legal theory behind the campaign finance case and whether to fire one or more United States attorneys.
Specifically, Mr. Nadler said, Mr. Whitaker said he had discussed “whether the Southern District went too far in pursuing the campaign finance case in which the president was listed as Individual No. 1.”
In the meeting, Democratic and Republican aides said, Mr. Whitaker cited the failed prosecution in a campaign finance case brought against John Edwards, the former Democratic senator, and said that he told staff members he believed certain claims in the case were “specious.”
Mr. Whitaker’s brief tenure atop the Justice Department was plagued by criticism from Democrats who questioned his qualifications and his decision not to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation despite department ethics officials’ recommendation that he do so based on his past public criticisms of the case.
The interview was not transcribed, though aides for Mr. Nadler, Mr. Collins and Justice Department officials present took notes.
Democratic aides accused Republicans of selectively representing Mr. Whitaker’s answers about his conversations with Mr. Trump. They did not dispute that Mr. Whitaker had at points said he did not remember or could not comment on the conversations.
But near the end of the meeting, the Democratic aides said, Mr. Collins asked Mr. Whitaker if it was correct that he had not spoken to Mr. Trump about the Cohen case. At that point, Mr. Whitaker said that had not, in fact, been his testimony.