One of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s longtime aides will appear alongside him during his highly-anticipated testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, a spokesperson said Tuesday, but is not expected to be sworn in.
Mueller’s team made a last-minute request that Aaron Zebley be sworn in and testify with him during his scheduled hearings before Congress on Wednesday, a congressional source familiar with the request told NBC News.
Mueller is slated to testify on his report into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the country’s influence on President Donald Trump for three hours before the House Judiciary Committee, take a break, then appear for at least two additional hours before the House Intelligence Committee.
For the first hearing, Zebley will sit alongside Mueller as his counsel, according to the Judiciary Committee spokesperson. The committee, however, is not updating its guidance to include Zebley as a witness. This means that Zebley will not be sworn in. Mueller can confer with him as he is questioned by the panel, according to committee rules, but cannot answer questions.
The ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, said Tuesday that GOP members had “not gotten assurances from the House Democrats on the committee that he [Zebley] will not speak.”
“He’s not supposed to speak in that role to anyone on the committee or asked questions. And we’re asking, and, frankly, that that be confirmed before the hearing. So we don’t have to waste time with it tomorrow,” Collins said.
Jim Popkin, Mueller’s spokesperson, disputed the idea that Zebley’s presence at the hearings amounted to an 11th-hour addition.
“Aaron Zebley was the Deputy Special Counsel and had day-to-day oversight of the investigations conducted by the Office,” Popkin said in a statement Tuesday. “He will accompany Special Counsel Mueller to the Wednesday hearings, as was discussed with the committees more than a week ago.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday during a conversation at the Center for American Progress that his panel was still working out what Zebley’s function might be.
Trump lashed out about Zebley’s role in Mueller’s testimony, tweeting Tuesday night that the decision “very unfair.”
“Just got back only to hear of a last minute change allowing a Never Trumper attorney to help Robert Mueller with his testimony before Congress tomorrow,” Trump said. “What a disgrace to our system. Never heard of this before.”
Zebley is especially close to Mueller, serving as his chief of staff at the FBI when Mueller was the director. Zebley is also an alumnus of the law firm WilmerHale, where Mueller worked after leaving the FBI.
Zebley followed Mueller to the Justice Department when he was tapped to be special counsel in 2017. Zebley is also a former FBI agent who was involved in an international hunt for al Qaeda terrorists before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In June, Mueller agreed to testify before Congress about his Russia investigation after he was subpoenaed by Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Judiciary, and Schiff.
Popkin said Monday that the former special counsel will make a brief opening statement when he testifies about his 22-month investigation, and will offer his 448-page report as his full statement for the record.
In May, Mueller stressed at a press conference that if he were called to testify he would stick closely to his written report. “Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis, and the reasons for the decisions we made,” he said.
“We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself. The report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.”
In a letter on Monday, the Justice Department also issued stern guidance to Mueller, stating that “any testimony must remain within the boundaries of your public report because matters within the scope of your investigation were covered by executive privilege.”
Trump jumps into N. Carolina special election, ties Democrat to ‘the squad’
President Donald Trump says he will rally in North Carolina in support of Republican Dan Bishop, who is running for Congress in a special election after voter fraud allegations tainted a 2018 race in the state’s 9th District.
“Looking forward to soon being in North Carolina to hold a big rally for wonderful Dan Bishop, who is running for Congress,” Trump wrote in a tweet Thursday night before attacking Bishop’s Democratic opponent, Dan McCready, without naming him directly. “His opponent wants Open Borders, Sanctuary Cities, and Socialism. He likes the ‘Squad’ more than North Carolina. Dan has my Full and Complete Endorsement!”
Trump didn’t announce a date or time for the rally, but it won’t be the first time he appears with the North Carolina Republican candidate; Bishop, a state senator, spoke briefly at a Trump rally last month.
And as pundits point to the race as an early indicator of the 2020 election cycle, Trump seems keen on deploying his own re-election strategy: tying Democrats to its most progressive fringes, particularly the young, female liberal lawmakers known as “the squad.”
Bishop is running against McCready, a Marine Corps veteran who lost a race for the seat last year against another Republican, Mark Harris. That election result was thrown out earlier this year amid allegations of absentee voter fraud against Harris’ campaign. Harris declined to run again and Bishop won a spring primary for the race.
While political pollsters have yet to give the race much attention, recent internal polling from the McCready campaign showed the candidates in a tie among likely voters in the special election Sept. 10.
Already, national politics have dogged this closely watched race: McCready returned a $2,000 donation from the campaign of squad member Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., this spring, amid controversy over her remarks about Israel.
McCready responded to Trump’s tweet with a call for donations.
“Look, we expected these attacks, but we cannot let them go unanswered,” he wrote in a tweet.
Trump speaks with ‘nasty’ Danish PM amid Greenland dispute
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has had a phone conversation with President Donald Trump amid a dispute about Greenland, her office said Friday.
Earlier this week, Trump scrapped a visit to Denmark by saying that Frederiksen was “nasty” when she rejected his idea of buying Greenland as an absurdity.
Both leaders spoke late Thursday, and Danish media reported that the call was “constructive.” Frederiksen’s office says details of the discussion won’t be released.
It is believed that it was the first time the two spoke since Frederiksen, who repeatedly has said the U.S. remains one of Denmark’s close allies, took office June 27.
On Tuesday, Trump abruptly canceled a Sept. 2-3 trip to Denmark as part of a European tour after Frederiksen had called Trump’s idea to buy Greenland “an absurd discussion.”
She also had said that Denmark doesn’t own Greenland, which belongs to its people. The scarcely populated island is part of the Danish realm and has its own government and parliament.
The political brouhaha over the world’s largest island comes from its strategic location in the Arctic. Global warming is making Greenland more accessible to potential oil and mineral resources. Russia, China, the U.S., Canada and other countries are racing to stake as strong a claim as they can to Arctic lands, hoping they will yield future riches.
The sparsely populated island, which is four times zones behind Copenhagen, became a Danish colony in 1775 and remained that way until 1953, when Denmark revised its constitution and made the island a province.
In 1979, Greenland and its 56,000 residents, who are mainly indigenous Inuits, got extensive home rule but Denmark still handles its foreign and defense policies, as well as currency issues.
Denmark pays annual subsidies of 4.5 billion kroner ($670 million) to Greenland whose economy otherwise depends on fisheries and related industries.
Rooftop sex followed office vodka drinking between gov’t official, WH aide
A former General Services Administration employee admitted to drinking alcohol and having sex with a White House staffer on the roof of his agency’s building, according to a watchdog report released this week.
The report, prepared by the GSA’s Office of Inspector General, revealed that P. Brennan Hart, a former associate administrator and acting chief of staff at the GSA, had admitted to a July 2017 incident in which he drank vodka in the office and received oral sex on the building’s roof.
Hart, who had been appointed to his job in May 2017 by President Donald Trump, told investigators he prepared drinks for himself and the White House employee and that “their sexual activity began in the Administrator suite area and culminated with oral sex on the rooftop of the Central Office,” the report stated.
Hart identified his sexual partner as a White House employee. That person’s identity was redacted in the report.
According to the report, Hart said he kept a bottle of vodka at his desk but only drank in the GSA building “after normal business hours.” He said he had previously consumed alcohol in the building with colleagues, including Timothy Horne, the GSA acting administrator at the time.
The Office of Inspector General opened an investigation after receiving anonymous complaints about Hart in January 2018, according to the report.
The White House staffer whose identity was redacted in the report refused to be interviewed, saying that it would have needed to be approved by then-White House counsel Don McGahn. The staffer never contacted the inspector general agents to follow up, the report stated.
The report detailed how Hart’s conduct violated government policies on drinking and use of government facilities, but the matter was not referred for criminal prosecution.
Hart left the agency in March 2018 — weeks after he was interviewed by investigators, a spokesperson for the agency told NBC News.
“GSA holds all employees to the highest ethical standards and takes appropriate actions to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations,” an agency spokesperson told NBC News in a statement. “GSA does not tolerate inappropriate use of alcohol in the workplace or any violation of government regulations regarding alcohol. Further, GSA does not tolerate the misuse of government property by any GSA employee.”
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