(Bloomberg) -- Robert Mueller’s former chief of staff will sit next to him and act as his counsel at Wednesday’s high-profile hearing on his investigation into President Donald Trump and the 2016 election, according to a House Judiciary official.
Aaron Zebley served as Mueller’s chief of staff when he was FBI director and later followed him into private practice and the Trump probe.
House Republicans complained about the last-minute change to the hearing lineup, criticizing reports that Democrats wanted Zebley to be sworn in alongside Mueller as a witness. The House official stressed that Zebley will be serving as Mueller’s counsel.
Separately, a top House Democrat said Mueller doesn’t have to comply with the Justice Department’s call for his public testimony to remain within the boundaries of his already released report.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a CNN interview Tuesday that Mueller is no longer a Justice Department employee and a letter restricting his testimony “asks things that are beyond the power of the agency to ask even if he still worked for them.”
“I think it’s incredibly arrogant of the department to try to instruct him as to what to say,” Nadler said. “It’s part of the ongoing coverup by the administration to keep information away from the American people.”
Responding to a request from Mueller for the department’s guidance on his appearance at two House hearings scheduled for Wednesday, the Justice Department said in a letter that Mueller shouldn’t discuss ongoing cases or uncharged individuals and that some details of his work may be covered by executive privilege.
While Mueller has already indicated publicly that he has no intention of going beyond what’s in his 448-page report, the guidance may disappoint Democrats who want him to offer more details about multiple instances where he investigated Trump for possible obstruction of justice.
Justice Department policy “also precludes any comment on the facts developed and legal conclusions by the Special Counsel’s Office with respect to uncharged individuals, other than information contained within the portions of your report that have already been made public,” Bradley Weinsheimer, an associate deputy attorney general, wrote to Mueller in a letter Monday.
Mueller is set to testify Wednesday for three hours before the Judiciary Committee beginning at 8:30 a.m. Washington time and for two hours starting at noon before the Intelligence Committee.
Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff sought to lower expectations that Mueller’s testimony will make a big difference in public opinion on Trump and the Russia probe because “people are pretty dug in” already.
The California Democrat said in an appearance at the Center for American Progress on Tuesday that he hopes Wednesday’s hearings bring a better public understanding of Russia’s election interference “and the gravity of what the Trump campaign did, and what our preisdent did -- how unethical it was, how unpatriotic it was.”
Mueller, a former FBI director, plans to deliver an opening statement on Wednesday, but the prepared remarks haven’t been vetted by the Justice Department, according to Jim Popkin, a spokesman for Mueller.
“No, they have not -- and will not,” Popkin said.
Trump said Monday that he won’t bother to watch Mueller’s testimony but then confessed he probably can’t resist sneaking a peek.
“I’m not going to be watching,” Trump told reporters Monday at the White House before adding, “Probably, maybe I’ll see a little bit of it.”
Mueller said he didn’t find enough evidence to prove that those around Trump conspired in Russia’s interference in the 2020 election and that he couldn’t exonerate the president on whether he sought to obstruct justice by impeding the probe.
Nadler said on Tuesday that he didn’t believe the Justice Department letter will be much of an impediment to Mueller’s testimony. “We’ve been operating under the assumption” that Mueller will “stay more or less within the bounds of the report.”
(Updates with Schiff comment starting in 11th paragraph.)
--With assistance from Josh Wingrove and Kathleen Miller.
To contact the reporters on this story: Billy House in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org;Chris Strohm in Washington at email@example.com;Terrence Dopp in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at email@example.com, Justin Blum
For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.