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Robert Mueller To Testify Before Congress; President Trump Attacks Democrats And Mueller Deputy On Twitter. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired July 24, 2019 - 07:30   ET




There will be back-to-back hearings today. Mueller will first be sworn in before the House Judiciary Committee, which will focus in on the episodes of obstruction documented in the Mueller report.

Then, the House Intelligence Committee will get its turn, concentrating on what Russia did to attack the 2016 presidential election here in the United States.

TAPPER: Now, Mueller is clearly a reluctant witness. He has stressed that he is going to limit his testimony to what is in his 448-page report, which was released more than three months ago. But even if Mueller only recites aloud some of the key points of his investigation, that effect could be stunning and these hearings could have blockbuster potential.

We've gathered our correspondents, our experts, and analysts to bring you full coverage.

BLITZER: I want to first go to Capitol Hill right now. Our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is up there.

Manu, there have been overnight developments involving a last-minute request by Robert Mueller. What are you learning now?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, sensitive negotiations that have been going on for up until essentially the last minute of this high-profile, high-stakes hearing in the aftermath of Robert Mueller making a request to have his top deputy, Aaron Zebley, to testify -- to sit alongside him and actually be sworn in.

Republicans objected to that request but ultimately, the House Judiciary Committee has agreed to allow Zebley to sit next to Robert Mueller. He's not expected to speak at the Judiciary Committee hearing.

But, the House Intelligence Committee, which will go after the Judiciary Committee, will actually swear in Zebley so he could answer questions, potentially, about personnel matters. Republicans have a lot of questions about that. We'll see how he answers.

Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told us last night that he actually believes that Zebley will just answer technical matters and won't overshadow Mueller.

But, Schiff also pushed back last night against the Justice Department, which is trying to limit Mueller's testimony to essentially the boundaries of the Mueller report. He said there's nothing that binds you to that report. He sent this letter to Mueller telling him that he is free to testify.

At the same time, there has been -- deliberations have been intensive behind the scenes. The Judiciary Committee Democrats held a mock hearing, one of three different mock hearings that Democrats and Republicans have held behind closed doors -- very unusual on Capitol Hill.

Someone sat in -- an aide -- as Robert Mueller in the Judiciary Committee Democrat hearing -- mocking hearing yesterday. One played Jim Jordan, the Republican who sits on this committee, because of Democrats trying to prepare for potential procedural hurdles and other objections that may be raised.

And this, Wolf and Jake, is some of the most intense hall -- crowding in the hallway that I've seen in some time. People have actually been sitting behind and waiting since last night, sleeping overnight, to come into this packed hearing room here in the Rayburn House Office Building.

Lining outside the door waiting for this key moment -- this high- stakes moment that both parties are preparing for, sharpening their questions, and crowds are lining up for. And we do expect Robert Mueller to appear any minute for this hearing that will take place in just under an hour, guys.

BLITZER: Manu, thanks very much.

You know, Jake, there -- a lot of people are waiting to get inside and Mueller is going to be arriving any minute. He's going to have a little preliminary behind closed doors with some members and then they go into the open session.

TAPPER: Let's turn to CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider. Now, Jessica, how has the Justice Department reacted to this news that Mueller wants his deputy, who will now be sworn in and join him during his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. So, Jake, the Department of Justice really objecting to Aaron Zebley or really any other person testifying in conjunction with Robert Mueller. It's not authorized practice. The Department generally prohibits line attorneys from testifying.

But in all actuality, Aaron Zebley is a private citizen and all the Department of Justice can really do at this point is object. Zebley is no longer an employee of the Justice Department. Obviously, no longer a member of the special counsel's team.

Of course, this was a late-night request from Robert Mueller, himself. We know that Aaron Zebley will be appearing next to him when he goes before the House Judiciary in just about less than an hour. And then also will be sworn in as a witness before the House Intelligence Committee.

We know that this was a request from Robert Mueller, himself, to have his deputy special counsel -- former deputy special counsel sit next to him and possibly help him with any questions that he might not be able to fully answer.

The spokesperson for Robert Mueller I spoke to this morning said he's not commenting on whether or not they've heard any further objections from the Justice Department. But again, the Justice Department really doesn't have full authority here. Zebley is a private citizen and can testify.

We heard from Robert Mueller's spokesperson yesterday really putting it this way, saying Aaron Zebley was the deputy special counsel and had day-to-day oversight of the investigation. So obviously, that could lead to what, potentially, Aaron Zebley could be assisting Robert Mueller with some of that questioning about some of those day- to-day operations of the investigation.

[07:35:00] And I did just speak to Robert Mueller's spokesperson and I've learned that when Robert Mueller arrives, he'll also be accompanied not only by Aaron Zebley but also by some of his team from the special counsel's office.

This is presumably the same group of people who have been working with Robert Mueller as he's been diligently preparing at the offices of WilmerHale. That's Robert Mueller's former law firm right here in Washington, D.C. We know that he has been preparing throughout the past few days or weeks.

So that group of people will be with him. Presumably, we'll see them sit just behind Robert Mueller at the hearing as he begins to testify at 8:30 this morning.

But so far, no more word from the Justice Department. But we do know that generally, they are objecting to Aaron Zebley testifying alongside Mueller, which he's expected to do at House Intel on the second part of the day -- guys.

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider at the Justice Department. Thanks so much.

BLITZER: President Trump clearly has been on edge ahead of the Mueller hearing, once again using the phrase that he's often used -- "witch hunt".

Let's go live to our White House correspondent, Boris Sanchez. What's the latest over there, Boris?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Wolf. Even though sources have indicated that President Trump is not anxious about Robert Mueller's testimony today, it's clear that this investigation and that the potential damaging information to come from Mueller is consuming the president. We've heard that he's been phoning allies, asking them specifically about what Mueller may say in his testimony.

The president also publicly, yesterday, made comments to a group of young conservatives, complaining that this investigation has continually overshadowed his presidency.

The president letting his anger be known in a series of tweets this morning, as well. Take a look.

The president writing, "So Democrats and others can illegally fabricate a crime, try pinning it on a very innocent president, and when he fights back against this illegal and treasonous attack on our country, they call it obstruction? Wrong! Why didn't Robert Mueller investigate the investigators?"

The president also taking exception to Aaron Zebley testifying alongside Robert Mueller.

He tweeted this out about the deputy special counsel, writing, quote, "It was NEVER agreed that Robert Mueller could use one of his many Democrat Never-Trumper lawyers to sit next to him and help him with his answers. This was specifically NOT agreed to and I would NEVER have agreed to it. The greatest witch hunt in U.S. history, by far!"

Now we should point it's not especially known that Aaron Zebley is a Never-Trumper or that he's a Democrat. Federal records indicate that he's never donated to either political party. Still, the president wants to paint him a certain way, just as he tried to paint Robert Mueller in a negative light, suggesting that he has conflicts of interest.

As for whether the president will be watching, earlier this week he sort of played coy, suggesting he might watch parts of the testimony. Knowing this president -- knowing just how much he consumes cable news, it's safe to say that he'll be watching.

As for when we might hear from him outside of Twitter, the president has a fundraiser later tonight in West Virginia. We will likely hear what he has to say about this testimony as he departs the White House, Jake and Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting -- Boris, we're going to get back to you -- Jake. The president, once again, using the word "treasonous" in describing his critics. Treason -- now that's a crime, potentially, that carries the death sentence.

TAPPER: Yes. Well, I mean, some people say you should take him seriously but not literally. That would probably be an example of that.

I want to bring in some of our experts right now. And, Pamela Brown, let me ask you. President Trump insisting he's not going to watch the testimony. Insisting his aides -- his aides insisting that he is irritated but not anxious about this.

And yet, when you look at his Twitter feed, the window into his soul, and you see he was tweeting about Robert Mueller at 10:30 last night before he went to bed, he was tweeting about Robert Mueller at 6:50 a.m., as soon as he got up. This is clearly consuming his day.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is, certainly, and it seems as though he is anxious this morning, at the very least, right before this testimony begins because remember, Robert Mueller has played an outsized role in his presidency.

He has cast a shadow over his presidency with the -- with the Russia probe. And now, we're going to hear from him for the first time, answering questions -- answering questions about this Russia probe. We have heard from him in the public statement but he's actually going to be answering questions in a non-scripted environment.

So this is a very big deal and a very big deal for the president. And if he's not watching it from beginning to end, at the very least, he's getting briefed on it. We do expect him to watch at least some of it. That is what he has said.

Now, I've talked to White House sources who say they don't expect anything new to come out of this because of Robert Mueller saying he's going to stick to what he -- what was said in the report -- stick to his public statement. But they are expecting some unseemly headlines to come out and they're going to be watching this very closely today.

TAPPER: And, Dana Bash, I've spoken to a number of Democrats on Capitol Hill and it's very clear that even if it's just kept within the constraints of what's in the Mueller report --


TAPPER: -- they have clear goals about what they want Mueller to educate the public about.

Here are the five incidents that we think constitute obstruction of justice.

[07:40:00] Here are -- here is the facts about Russian election interference. Russians offered to help, the Trump people welcomed the help, and then the Trump people lied about it. They know what they want the public to know.

BASH: That's exactly right.

And educate the public is the key phrase that you just used there because if you look at the big picture of the will they or won't they on impeachment, what House Democrats -- the leadership -- their argument that they are making to their very anxious rank and file and to the -- to the grassroots is hold on a second. The public isn't where you are yet. We need to get them there. That is what, for the leadership, this is about.

Now, obviously, if you would give them truth serum, they're hoping that this doesn't get to the point where they have no choice but to start impeachment hearings.

But if you look at the chairman of the committee that we're going to see this morning, Jerry Nadler, he has made it very clear that he does want to start impeachment hearings. He is at odds with the Democratic leadership.

And that's why this hearing is so crucial because even if he can get Robert Mueller to say what is in the report, to explain the areas where he couldn't charge the president for obstruction but he laid out areas where there clearly was, that's key.

And the other point that is really critical is that this is a roadmap for impeachment. And so, if they can get Robert Mueller to articulate this roadmap on obstruction, then the people who want to push for impeachment --


BASH: -- can take that map and use it and run with it.

TAPPER: And, Jim Sciutto, this is also -- this might be a roadmap for impeachment, but the Mueller report is also a case study of Russian election interference. And one of the points of the House Intelligence Committee -- the Democrats on it, at least -- is to make the case that the Russians are still doing this.


TAPPER: This is how they did it last time. They might try similar tricks next time.

SCIUTTO: The expectation, in fact, is that they will, and they already attempted it in 2018.

Remember that phrase -- Robert Mueller -- from his previous public statement -- "sweeping and systematic interference" in the election. This Mueller report -- you talk about educating the public -- educates the public on just how sweeping and systematic that was. To a president, as well, who has denied the significance of it and questioned even if Russia was behind it.

But let's look at the statistics here. Four hundred seventy fake Facebook accounts; 126 million Americans reached by those fake accounts. Thirty-five hundred fake Facebooks ads, 3,800 Twitter accounts all traced back to this troll farm in Saint Petersburg known as the IRA, run by a close friend of Vladimir Putin. That is sweeping, that is systematic.

And keep in mind as well, of course, you had the stolen DNC e-mails, you had the stolen John Podesta e-mails, all released with intent -- you know, it's no accident that John Podesta's e-mails were released 22 minutes after the "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD" tape, OK, by WikiLeaks. This was -- this was timed to have impact on this election.

And we have another presidential election coming up next year and the expectation from everyone in the Intelligence Community and law enforcement is that Russia will try again. And imagine if Russia does and how this country will receive that, given that the facts of this interference has become a partisan issue. It should not be, but the fact it has become a partisan issue because the president has made it such.

TAPPER: And, in fact, we've heard from the president and others close to the White House that accepting information from the Russians is -- there's not necessarily anything wrong with that.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

TAPPER: You're looking on the -- on the right side of your screen, live pictures of the committee hearing room.

We are going to take a quick break. We'll be right back with more on Robert Mueller under oath, testifying before the American people.


[07:47:43] BLITZER: We're counting down to the start of former special counsel Robert Mueller's historic and potentially explosive testimony up on Capitol Hill.

Let's get back to our legal experts at this time.

Jeffrey Toobin, it will be historic -- potentially, explosive?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Potentially. But, you know, even within the very strict rules that Mueller has agreed to follow, there's a lot of leeway in terms of how he actually talks about his report.

Will he describe what's in his report? Will he talk about the meetings that the Democrats say are obstruction of justice? Or will he simply say, 'See page 35. I already talked about that in my report.'

How much he agrees to engage with his questioners -- how much he actually talks about what he uncovered is, at this moment, unknown. And if he simply says read my report, that would be a very big disappointment to the people who want the public to know what was in the report.

BLITZER: Because, Laura Coates, he is a reluctant witness. He made it clear a couple of months ago he didn't want to do this.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: He did and he has, now, a deputy there with him as well who may suggest that he wants to be forthcoming, he wants to be comprehensive and doesn't want to do this one more time. He wants to turn to the person who is going to know the answers and say let's get this done right now.

I'm looking for two things -- his rationale, as Jeffrey alluded to. Why you made the decisions, why you declined to make decisions.

And also, credibility. The whole point of this is the same reason you don't hand to a jury a police report. You need it to come to life. You want it to actually have some legs and some teeth.

And if he can provide the credibility to say look, here's what I meant, what I said. I'm not hiding behind semantics, I'm not hiding behind nuance. Here's what it is. It's making it plain.

BLITZER: Preet, though, what are you going to be looking for.

PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: The same thing everyone else is looking for, to see what explanations Bob Mueller gives about why he made the decisions he made and why he didn't make some decisions, particularly on obstruction.

And I'll say one more thing. I agree with Jeffrey that there's potential. But there's also tremendous potential for disappointment on the part of the Democrats.

Bob Mueller is one of the most reluctant witnesses that I've ever come across in this context. When I saw him testify when I worked in the Senate he was pretty forthcoming but he didn't evade questions. He doesn't filibuster.

In this instance, one of the things the Democrats keep saying over and over again, given how few people have read the actual Mueller report is maybe they'll have Bob Mueller narrate and read portions of the report. I've got to tell, I don't think Bob Mueller wants to be a prop in that way either. I'm not certain that if asked to read passages from the report, Bob Mueller will even agree to do that.

[07:50:08] I think he'll do what Jeffrey said, which is you can read the report as well as anyone. Here's the page number you can look at. And he's really not going to want to play ball in that political way.

BLITZER: Garrett Graff, you've written the biography of Robert Mueller. You've also interviewed Aaron Zebley, his deputy who is going to be joining him throughout the day. Tell us about it.

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, AUTHOR, "THE THREAT MATRIX: INSIDE ROBERT MUELLER'S FBI": Yes. So, Aaron has been Bob Mueller's right hand for almost a decade now, both at the FBI as deputy chief of staff, then chief of staff, and then actually with Robert Mueller in private practice at WilmerHale before coming back in as special counsel.

He's a career FBI agent and was actually one of the agents in the FBI on Squad I-49, chasing al Qaeda before 9/11.

In probably his biggest case, he and his partner, Steve Gaudin, actually went undercover in the South African Immigration and Refugee Service and captured KKM, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, the bomb maker in the Tanzanian embassy bombing. They found him in South Africa, tracked him down at a refugee office and wrestled him to the ground, and brought him back to the U.S. to stand trial. BLITZER: And when the President of the United States calls Aaron Zebley "Mueller's longtime Never-Trumper lawyer"?

GRAFF: I have spoken to Aaron Zebley and known him for a decade and I have never seen any partisan leaning one way or another with him. He is the finest traditions of a nonpartisan career Department of Justice official. And, if anything, the FBI skews conservative.

BLITZER: Preet, when the President of the United States goes out --

Oh, here is Mueller arriving up on Capitol Hill right now. You see him walking in. He's clearly got some security, which is totally understandable given the nature of what's going on right now.

He's going into the Rayburn Building. We're going to watch, Jake, as he goes in. He's going to go into a room off the hearing room first and get himself ready, get himself organized. I assume the leadership -- the committee chairman and the ranking member -- they'll come out and say hi.

TAPPER: Yes. Robert Mueller has had a long and illustrious career. When he was appointed, a lot of Republicans sung his praise and talked about how he was a man of integrity, a decorated Vietnam veteran, somebody who served with honor at the FBI.

And, of course, he has seen his name dragged through the mud -- or at least the president and his minions have attempted to drag his name through the mud.

I believe he still has his reputation generally intact but it has been, I think, a very unpleasant experience for him. He is somebody who does not like partisan politics. He doesn't like politics at all.

He's testified on Capitol Hill, I think, 88 times before and he does not like doing it.

BLITZER: Some reporters were shouting a question or two, obviously. He was just walking into that room right off of the hearing room to get himself ready. We're a little bit more than a half an hour away from the start when the gavel will come down and the committee chairman will bring it into session.

Let's take a quick break. We are only beginning our special coverage. Much more on this historic day right after this.


[07:57:14] BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage.

And, Preet Bharara, all these attacks on Robert Mueller and his team coming from the President of the United States, how's that going to impact Mueller today? He's going to clearly want to defend himself and his team.

BHARARA: I would hope so. I mean, Bob Mueller is somebody who people who have worked with him respect immensely. He has dead loyalty from people because he models good behavior and models integrity.

And one of the things that I think is most important for him to do today in response to questions from mostly Republicans, probably, about Peter Strzok and about Democrats being on the team, and all sorts of other allegations made by the president, is to forcefully reject those allegations.

Defend the integrity of the investigation out of the mouth of Bob Mueller. Until now, those kind of defenses have been made by people who appear on television and are not part of the team. People need to hear it from Bob Mueller, himself.

BLITZER: Yes, and it's going to be a significant development, Laura, when we watch all of this unfold because Mueller -- as we've been saying, he didn't want to have to do this but he's doing it.

COATES: He is, and he didn't want to have to also write a letter to William Barr telling him please present my summary that I already gave to you. He was accused of being snitty.

And you wonder if it's going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy here and they've laid the groundwork to say any defense he makes on the integrity-based claims, any statements he makes to defend his own honor or the career legacy of his team is going to be viewed as him simply trying to preserve himself as opposed to the American people. So I'm curious to see how they're going to play it in that respect.

BLITZER: And the Democrats, Jeffrey Toobin, they've been practicing. They've been rehearsing. They've had mock hearings.

TOOBIN: You know what they should practice the most? Shutting up.


TOOBIN: They should let Mueller talk.

I mean, you know, they only have five minutes and obviously, they all know that -- how much attention there is going to be on this and they're going to want to talk for the five -- for their five minutes. And I think the great challenge for these politicians is going to be to actually let the witness do the talking, not them.

BLITZER: You can see the hearing room, Jake, beginning to fill up. The members -- they're not there yet, but they'll be walking in -- the Democrats and the Republicans -- and they're going to equally divide the time they have for questions.

TAPPER: That's right.

And, Preet, I wanted to ask you -- I talked to some House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee today and they say there are five things that they want the public to learn about the potential obstruction of justice.

One is the president, according to former White House counsel Don McGhan, telling him to fire Mueller. Another is Don McGhan saying that President Trump then told him to lie about it publicly.

Another is the president, according to Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign manager, telling Lewandowski to tell Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general, to restrain what the investigation's about. Another -- the fourth is Lewandowski saying that then the president said to Sessions if you don't meet with me, the president's going to fire you.

And the fifth one is what the Democrats consider to be witness tampering -- inducements for Manafort to not cooperate, inducements to.