What To Expect From Robert Mueller's Congressional Testimony

Jul 23, 2019
Originally published on July 23, 2019 7:46 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And the countdown is on for congressional testimony by the former special counsel Robert Mueller. Lawmakers have spent weeks preparing for tomorrow's hearings - holding practice sessions, drafting talking points. For his part, Mueller has worked to tamp down expectations. Here he is in May, giving his only public remarks to date on the Russia probe.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBERT MUELLER: And the report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.

KELLY: NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has covered Mueller for years, so we have asked her to stop by and give us her preview on what to expect.

Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So we just heard Robert Mueller there say, my report speaks for itself. Will we learn anything new tomorrow?

JOHNSON: Now, the odds were always low that Robert Mueller would drop a bomb before Congress tomorrow. But the prospect became even more unlikely last night. That's when the Justice Department sent Mueller a letter. DOJ, in the letter, says Mueller should not go beyond the four corners of his public report. And DOJ points out there are gag orders in two ongoing cases, one involving Roger Stone, the president's longtime political adviser, another against Concord Management, which allegedly helped fund and coordinate some Russian social media trolling inside the U.S. in 2016. And finally, the DOJ reminds Bob Mueller in this letter, there's policy that directs him not to talk about people who were not charged with any crimes.

KELLY: Not to talk about people charged with any crimes, which - let me pause there for a second because that would, of course, include the president. Mueller has said if he had confidence the president did not commit a crime, he would say that. He would have said it in the report. He didn't. How tied are his hands in terms of what he can say about Trump tomorrow?

JOHNSON: You know, even if Robert Mueller wanted to dish dirt on President Trump or any of the children, he's in a bind here. The Justice Department policy prohibits the indictment of a sitting president. And DOJ policy also prevents prosecutors from talking about facts and legal conclusions about people they don't charge with wrongdoing.

That said, there are some big fans of Mueller who are urging him to be bold and go bold - talking here about Leslie Caldwell, a former assistant attorney general at Justice and a Mueller protege. She tweeted this morning, I know it's against all his normally laudable rule-following instincts, but Bob Mueller can and should speak the truth tomorrow. Now, Mueller no longer works at DOJ. He's a private citizen.

KELLY: Yeah.

JOHNSON: But will he run through these boundaries that DOJ has erected for him? I doubt it.

KELLY: All right. So let's say you're right, Carrie, and he only talks about what has - in his report. You've read the report. You've been reviewing it, I'm sure, this week to prepare for this testimony. What are going to be the takeaways?

JOHNSON: There are some big takeaways, and they're not really positive for this White House. The report sets out a number of damaging facts about Trump. Witnesses told Mueller candidate Trump seemed to have some advance notice that WikiLeaks was releasing information damaging to Hillary Clinton, Trump's opponent in 2016. And even if there wasn't enough evidence to charge anyone with conspiracy or campaign finance violations, there were lots and lots of contacts between the campaign and Russians.

Now, on obstruction of justice, Trump's own aides told investigators about several episodes after Mueller began his work, where the president tried to derail the investigation and tried to fire Mueller himself. That's coming from people inside the White House, people like Don McGahn and Reince Priebus and Corey Lewandowski, an outside adviser to Trump.

KELLY: So Carrie, in the 30 seconds or so we've got left - I mentioned you have covered Mueller for years, including back when he was FBI director. What are you watching for?

JOHNSON: This is a guy who doesn't exactly volunteer information. He basically answers the questions he's asked with yeses and noes and pretty clinical or legal language. So somebody wanting Bob Mueller to give them a soundbite is probably not going to get it. There is - there have been instances in the past where Mueller has pushed back on members of Congress, especially when he was FBI director and they were pressing him. But it's unlikely that he's going to spill any major beans that he doesn't intend to.

KELLY: All right. We will see if you are right. That is NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson.

Thank you.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.