WASHINGTON: Former Trump-Russia special counsel Robert Mueller finally faces congressional interrogators on Wednesday, testifying in televised hearings that Democrats hope will weaken President Donald Trump’s reelection prospects in ways that Mueller’s book-length report did not. Republicans are ready to defend Trump and turn their fire on Mueller and his team instead.
The back-to-back Capitol Hill appearances, Mueller’s first since wrapping his two-year Russia probe last spring, carry the extraordinary spectacle of a prosecutor discussing in public a criminal investigation he conducted in to a sitting U.S. president. The hearings come at an instant of deep divisions in Congress and the nation, and they raise serious questions about whether Mueller will change anyone’s hardened opinions about impeachment and the ongoing future of Trump’s presidency.
Mueller, known for his taciturn nature, has warned that he will not stray beyond what’s already been revealed in his report ;.And the Justice Department has instructed Mueller to stay strictly within those parameters, giving him an official directive to indicate if he faces questions he doesn’t want to answer.
On Tuesday, Democrats on the House judiciary and intelligence committees granted his request to possess his top aide in the investigation, Aaron Zebley, sit at the table with him. Zebley isn’t expected to be sworn in for questioning by the judiciary panel. But he will have the ability to answer questions before the intelligence committee, where, a committee aide said, he is going to be sworn in. The aide was not authorized to discuss the hearing preparations publicly and requested anonymity.
Trump lashed out early Wednesday prior to the hearing, saying on Twitter that “Democrats and others” are trying to fabricate an offense and pin it on “an extremely innocent President.”
“Why didn’t Robert Mueller investigate the investigators?” Trump said in his tweet.
Trump has made Mueller a regular target of attack in the last two years in an attempt to undermine his credibility and portray him as biased and compromised.
Throughout the last week, Trump started initially to frequently ask confidants how he thought the hearing would go, and while he expressed no worry that Mueller would reveal anything damaging, he was irritated that the former special counsel had been given the national stage, based on two Republicans near the White House. These were not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
Long conscious of the power of televised images, Trump seethed to one adviser that he was annoyed Democrats will be given an instrument to ramp up their investigations — and that the cable news networks would are in possession of new footage of Mueller to play endlessly on loop in an endeavor to embarrass the White House.
Mueller’s approach to testifying may well deny Democrats the made-by-TV moments they want to rally their base. But Republicans, too, are apt to be left without their sought-after confirmation that the Russia investigation was a politically tainted waste of time.
Trump this week feigned indifference to Mueller’s testimony , telling reporters in the Oval Office on Monday, “I’m not planning to be watching — probably — maybe I’ll see a little bit of it.”
The president features a light schedule when Mueller begins speaking Wednesday morning, then heads to West Virginia for evening fundraisers. The TVs aboard Air Force One are apt to be tuned to coverage of the hearings, and the president is expected to watch or be briefed on most of the proceedings, based on four administration officials and Republicans near the White House. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because these were not authorized to discuss internal plans.
Yet the former special counsel do not need to say much to possess his own quiet impact: His mere appearance will give voice to the 448-page legal thicket called the Mueller report. His testimony, however sparse, will convert from dense paragraphs into plain English a document many in America have yet to wade through.
Mueller may develop a powerful impression simply by confirming without hesitation some damning details from his report. A former FBI director who spent 12 years parrying questions from lawmakers at oversight hearings, and decades before that as a prosecutor who asked questions of his own, Mueller is unlikely to be goaded into saying anything he doesn’t want to say.
In reality, he must be subpoenaed to show up in the initial place.
Wednesday’s first hearing before the Judiciary Committee will concentrate on perhaps the president illegally obstructed justice by wanting to seize control of Mueller’s investigation.
The special counsel examined nearly a dozen episodes , including Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and his efforts to possess Mueller himself removed. Mueller in his report ultimately declined to mention perhaps the president broke regulations, saying this kind of judgment will be unfair in light of Justice Department legal opinions that bar the indictment of a sitting president.
The afternoon hearing before the House intelligence committee will dive into ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
On that question, Mueller’s report documented a trail of contacts between Russians and Trump associates — including a Trump Tower meeting at that the president’s eldest son expected for dirt on Democrat Hillary Clinton — but the special counsel found insufficient proof a criminal conspiracy aiming to tip the 2016 election.
Like the majority of Russia-related hearings before Congress, this one is likely to divide sharply along partisan lines.
Democrats are angling to draw Mueller from some of the most incendiary findings of the report, including Trump’s repeated attempts to choke off the investigation.