Trump says he'll watch 'a little bit' of Robert Mueller's congressional testimony on Russia's 2016 election interference
Much of Washington will stop in its tracks on Wednesday, July 24, as Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill for at least five hours, a nationally televised event that for many will be their first detailed exposure to the former special counsel's findings
NEW YORK: He won't watch. Well, maybe just a little bit. President Donald Trump on Monday, July 22, feigned indifference to Robert Mueller's upcoming congressional testimony, an eyebrow-raising claim for a media-obsessed president who has been concerned for months about the potential impact of the former special counsel's appearance.
Much of Washington will stop in its tracks on Wednesday, July 24, as Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill for at least five hours, a nationally televised event that for many Americans will be their first detailed exposure to the former special counsel's findings on Russia's 2016 election interference.
The Justice Department on Monday told Mueller his testimony should not go beyond information that has already been released publicly.
Trump told reporters in the Oval Office: "I'm not going to be watching — probably — maybe I'll see a little bit of it. I'm not going to be watching Mueller because you can't take all those bites out of the apple."
That was a shift from Friday, when Trump insisted that he would not watch any of Mueller's back-to-back appearances before two House committees.
Either way, the president has continued to wage war on the former special counsel's credibility, sending out a series of tweets Monday in which he deemed Mueller, without evidence, "highly conflicted" and said that "in the end it will be bad for him and the phony Democrats in Congress who have done nothing but waste time on this ridiculous Witch Hunt."
Trump's Twitter account may well be the main vehicle for the White House to respond to Mueller's testimony.
Though the probe did not establish charges of criminal conspiracy or obstruction, there has been growing concern among those close to the president that Mueller's appearance could push undecided or reluctant Democrats toward impeachment. Even so, there appears to be little evidence of an organized White House response plan to the hearings.
The president has a light schedule Wednesday morning, when Mueller begins speaking, before heading to West Virginia for evening fundraisers. The TVs aboard Air Force One are likely to be tuned to coverage of the hearings, and the president is expected to watch or be briefed on most of the proceedings, according to four administration officials and Republicans close to the White House. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal plans.
When Mueller was originally scheduled to appear last Wednesday, before a one-week postponement, the president's campaign scheduled a rally that night in North Carolina so Trump could offer a rebuttal. That won't happen this time, though the president's personal attorneys, including Rudy Giuliani, may issue their own statements, and talking points could be circulated among conservatives.
There is also an expectation within the White House that House Republicans will pepper Mueller with tough questions, though they may be less comfortable taking a swipe at the decorated war hero from the chambers rather than via Twitter or Fox News.
This time, the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee will question Mueller in separate hearings on the report. Judiciary panel Democrats planned to practice with a mock hearing behind closed doors on Tuesday, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were unauthorized to publicly discuss the planning.
Mueller plans to begin with an opening statement that a spokesman said would be similar in substance to his May 29 statement from the Justice Department podium. In that statement, he cautioned Congress that he would not go beyond the text of the report if called upon to testify and explained his team's decision to neither seek an indictment of the president nor exonerate him on obstruction of justice allegations.
Responding to a request from Mueller about limitations or potential privilege issues, a senior Justice Department official, Bradley Weinsheimer, told Mueller in a letter that the department expects that he will not stray beyond his report when he testifies. Weinsheimer also told Mueller that he should not discuss the redacted portions of his report or the actions of people who were not charged.
While the report did not find sufficient evidence to establish charges of criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to swing the election, it said Trump could not be cleared of trying to obstruct the investigation.