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Trump And White House Downplay Robert Mueller's Upcoming Congressional Testimony


Tomorrow is Mueller Day, when former special counsel Robert Mueller goes before two congressional committees to answer questions under oath about his investigation. We will hear, in a few moments, from one lawmaker who's been looking forward to the day. At the White House, though, President Trump and those around him are trying to downplay the importance of Mueller's congressional testimony. As NPR's Tamara Keith reports, they are hanging a lot on Mueller's own words.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: On May 29, Robert Mueller spoke publicly for the first time since launching the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, involvement of the Trump campaign and potential obstruction of justice.


ROBERT MUELLER: Good morning, everyone, and thank you for being here.

KEITH: Mueller's message was loud and clear - read the report.


MUELLER: We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.

KEITH: Talk to Trump allies, and it's clear that's what they're counting on. Mueller is a by-the-books operator, they say. Nothing new is going to come out of his testimony. He won't stray beyond what's in the report, they insist. One went so far as to declare that the day of the hearings is going to be a dud.

JAY SEKULOW: Bob said his report is his testimony. I expect his testimony will be his report, so I don't expect anything new.

KEITH: Jay Sekulow leads President Trump's private legal team.

SEKULOW: There's no war room. There's no pre-plan on response. We will respond as appropriate based on the testimony. We expect the testimony will be the report.

KEITH: But Democrats are counting on even bland testimony laying out the contents of the report having more impact on the public than a dense 448-page volume with ample footnotes and redactions that most people haven't read. Trump and his allies insist the report wasn't bad for the president. So more people knowing more details won't move the needle either, Sekulow says.

SEKULOW: Remember. We were prepared to issue a counterreport when the Mueller report came out and decided it wasn't necessary. I think this is the Democrats' last chance, their second bite at the apple to try to get some interest in this. And it's not interesting because the conclusion, which was the basis upon which this entire event started, was no collusion. So that kind of sets it all up.

KEITH: While the report said investigators didn't find a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, it did say Russia interfered in the election to try to aid Trump, and the Trump campaign expected to benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts. On obstruction of justice, this is how Mueller put it.


MUELLER: If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.

KEITH: It was Attorney General William Barr who determined there was no prosecutable case of obstruction of justice. As for President Trump himself, after Mueller spoke publicly for the first time in May, Trump quickly went on the attack.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He is a total conflicted person. I think Mueller is a true Never Trumper. He's somebody that dislikes Donald Trump.

KEITH: In a pair of tweets Monday, Trump went after Mueller again and said the hearing will be, quote, "bad for him and the phony Democrats in Congress." Trump then listed questions he has frequently raised about Mueller's team of investigators, questions at least some of his Republican allies in Congress are likely to ask at the hearing. But then, as he often does, Trump, when asked by reporters about Mueller's testimony, pretended to be uninterested.


TRUMP: No, 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.

KEITH: The hearing starts early tomorrow - 8:30 Eastern, at a time that, on most days, President Trump is typically still in the residence watching TV and tweeting.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.