On Wednesday, former special counsel Robert Mueller will testify in front of the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, beginning with a three-hour session with the Judiciary at 8:30 a.m., and reconvening at noon for a two-hour session with Intelligence. Democrats hope that the hearings will provide one last opportunity for Mueller to expand upon the ultraprofessional comments he’s made thus far on his investigation’s findings, while the Trump administration has urged him to restrict his testimony to the information already made public in the report.
You can watch the testimony on CNN (with anchors Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper), CBS (with Norah O’Donnell), ABC (with George Stephanopoulous and David Muir), PBS (with Judy Woodruff), NBC (with Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, and Chuck Todd), MSNBC (with Brian Williams, Nicole Wallace, and Ari Melber), or Fox News (with Bret Baier and Martha Mac Callum). You can also watch C-SPAN’s online feed here.
Below is everything we know about what could be the investigation’s curtain call – or could mark a renewed focus on President Trump’s connections with Russia.
DOJ to Mueller: Keep the Briefing Brief
In a letter published Monday, Justice Department officials told Mueller that they expect him to limit his testimony to the un-redacted details of the special counsel’s report published in April. Any evidence beyond that is assumed to be “presumptively privileged” and not to be disclosed to the public. There will be no official administration presence at the hearing, so the DOJ expects the consummately rule-oriented Mueller to censor himself.
For their part, Democrats on the committees have reportedly managed their expectations. Per CBS News: “Neither committee is expecting Mueller to give lengthy or extensive answers to lawmakers’ questions. Democratic staff members of the committees say they anticipate ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers from the former special counsel or very short sentences.” Mueller’s own statements suggest his answers on Wednesday will be curt: In a brief press conference two months ago, Mueller said that he expected “this to be the only time that I will speak about this matter” and that “it’s important the office’s written work speaks for itself.” But House Democrats subpoenaed him in the unlikely event he would reveal new information in the investigation, knowing that he would show — unlike other officials employed by the Justice Department.
What Democrats Might Ask
The line of questioning in the three-hour House Judiciary Committee session will focus primarily on obstruction of justice — a charge that Mueller punted to Attorney General William Barr. The second session, coming in at two hours, will be structured around Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Regarding the first charge, Democrats will likely prod Mueller to expand on the details of ten instances of possible obstruction outlined in the report, which include Trump’s effort to get James Comey to drop the FBI investigation; Trump’s firing of Comey; Trump’s attempt to get White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller; and messages the White House sent to Paul Manafort urging him not to “flip.” In addition, expect committee Dems to question Mueller about why the investigation followed the DOJ precedent that a president can’t be indicted while in office, while also stating that he did not have “confidence” that Trump did not obstruct justice.
On Russian interference, Democrats will likely press Mueller on the determination that “the investigation did not establish that the Campaign coordinated or conspired” with Russia, despite all the evidence of campaign contacts with Russian intelligence assets. As Vox explains, crucial redacted sections of the report will most likely come into play as well:
Now, there is one big loose end involving Mueller’s findings about what happened in 2016. Heavily redacted sections of the report discuss whether Trump associates were involved in the dissemination of those hacked emails. This section discusses longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone’s contacts with WikiLeaks and, apparently, advance information Trump was told. However, Mueller will not be permitted to discuss that material, to avoid prejudicing Stone’s trial on charges of obstruction, making false statements, and witness tampering (which is scheduled for November). So it is not clear whether questioning on this topic will be fruitful.
And at CNN, former federal prosecutor Shanlon Wu provides three simple questions that can “elicit everything [Democrats] need from Mueller.”
1. Explain your view of whether a sitting President of the United States can be indicted.
2. Explain why you could not say that the President did not commit a crime.
3. Explain the difference between finding evidence of Trump and his associates having contacts with Russia and finding sufficient evidence to charge the President with crimes.
Even in the likely event that Mueller does not provide any new information from his report, Wednesday’s testimony could still shift public opinion away from the view that Trump was exonerated by the investigation — a sequel of sorts to the May conference which had some conservative pundits stunned by Mueller’s implication that the president was not cleared by the report.
What Republicans Might Ask
Republicans on the committees are expected to ask Mueller about possible bias within his team, chasing a red herring of text messages critical of Trump that were exchanged between FBI agent Peter Strzok and attorney Lisa Page during a separate investigation into the emails of Hillary Clinton. Mueller removed Strzok from the special counsel’s office when he was informed of the messages.
Trump Says He Won’t Be Watching. His Schedule Says Otherwise.
The television fanatic–in–chief said he won’t be tuning into the hearings. Sitting with Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan on Monday, Trump told reporters, “No, I’m not going to be watching, probably, maybe I’ll see a little bit of it.” But according to a report from NBC News, “The White House and President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign plan to tune in Wednesday to watch former special counsel Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony without a coordinated plan to counter the appearance ahead of time, according to multiple officials involved in those discussions.” Conveniently, the early hours of the hearings overlap with Trump’s blocked-out “executive time,” in which he normally watches TV. So far, his schedule only includes lunch with the vice-president.