Prior to signing off of Twitter for the evening Tuesday night, President Donald Trump posted an angry tweet bashing special counsel Robert Mueller for requesting that his longtime aide be allowed to testify at Wednesday’s House Judiciary and Intelligence Committee hearings.
“So Robert Mueller has now asked for his long time Never Trumper lawyer to sit beside him and help with answers,” the president wrote. “What’s this all about? His lawyer represented the ‘basement server guy’ who got off free in the Crooked Hillary case. This should NOT be allowed. Rigged Witch Hunt!”
So Robert Mueller has now asked for his long time Never Trumper lawyer to sit beside him and help with answers. What’s this all about? His lawyer represented the “basement server guy” who got off free in the Crooked Hillary case. This should NOT be allowed. Rigged Witch Hunt!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 24, 2019
Sometime within the past week, Mueller issued a last-minute request asking that his former deputy special counsel, Aaron Zebley, be sworn in at both hearings and allowed to testify alongside him.
“Mr. Zebley has worked closely with Mr. Mueller for years,” The New York Times notes. “He worked alongside the special counsel during his 22-month investigation, served as his chief of staff when Mr. Mueller was F.B.I. director and followed him into private practice at the WilmerHale law firm. Mr. Zebley filled a similar role on the special counsel’s team, coordinating it and serving as a go-between with the Justice Department.”
While the House Intelligence Committee reportedly approved the request in full, the House Judiciary is only allowing Zebley to sit beside Mueller and advise him, not testify.
A House Intel Cmte aide says Mr. Zebley, who will be accompanying the principal witness Special Counsel Mueller, will be sworn in for the House Intel Cmte hearing. Zebley will not be sworn in before the Judiciary Cmte hearing but rather will sit alongside Mueller as his counsel
— Alex Moe (@AlexNBCNews) July 24, 2019
The president’s allegation that Zelby “represented the ‘basement server guy’ who got off free in the Crooked Hillary case” is accurate, according to the Washington Examiner.
“Zebley spent 2015 and 2016 representing Justin Cooper, a former Clinton Foundation adviser and IT aide who set up and maintained Clinton’s improper private email system for years while Clinton served as Secretary of State,” the outlet has confirmed. “FBI records even show that Cooper was involved in the destruction of some of Clinton’s personal devices.”
“Cooper did recall two instances where he destroyed Clinton’s old mobile devices by breaking them in half or hitting them with a hammer,” FBI records reportedly confirm.
Zebley’s defense of Cooper occurred while he was working at the WilmerHale law firm alongside Mueller.
Despite these disturbing facts, the problem with the president’s tweet is that impugning a man’s reputation because he previously represented a bad person is considered improper. Consider what happened to former Harvard University professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. and his wife, Stephanie Robinson, both of whom were the first black faculty deans at Harvard.
They were unfairly booted from their posts as deans at Harvard earlier this year after students “expressed dismay” over Sullivan’s past legal work for disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The dubious principle that prompted his unfair removal is the same one being cited by the president.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t valid concerns about the Democrats’ willingness to allow Mueller to make a last-minute change to how the hearings this week are to be conducted.
“Rumor is that Aaron Zebley (Mueller’s Chief of Staff) will be on the witness panel with Mueller,” Freedom Caucus founder Rep. Jim Jordan noted in a tweet Wednesday. “You don’t get to change the rules right before kickoff, especially after a 22 month, $30 million investigation.”
Judiciary Committee ranking member Doug Collins issued a similar statement.
“This apparent stunt is unsurprising in light of the Democrats’ repeated attempts to circumvent, misrepresent and flout the rules of procedures governing this committee’s business. If Democrats believe it is the special council’s responsibility to testify to his report, they have no ground for outsourcing that duty at the expense of our committee’s integrity.”
The statement was issued before the Judiciary Committee confirmed that it would not allow Zebley to be sworn in and testify. Just his presence alone is nevertheless troubling to many, given Mueller’s request was made so late in the process.
Rumor is that Aaron Zebley (Mueller’s Chief of Staff) will be on the witness panel with Mueller.
You don’t get to change the rules right before kickoff, especially after a 22 month, $30 million investigation.
— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) July 23, 2019
A last-minute witness would jeopardize whether tomorrow’s hearing complies with House Rules.
If Dems believe it’s the special counsel’s responsibility to testify to his report, they have no ground for outsourcing that duty at the expense of our committee’s integrity.
— Rep. Doug Collins (@RepDougCollins) July 23, 2019
In his statement, Collins also justifiably complained about Democrats potentially allowing Zebley to “both advise [Mueller] privately and simultaneously testify alongside him.” House rules reportedly do not permit both to occur at the same time.
Though he’s chosen to allow Zebley to testify, Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff claims he’s only interested in hearing from Mueller.
“We would like to make sure that to the degree [Zebley] participates, that it may be on technical issues or other matters. We don’t want him as a substitute for Mueller’s voice,” he said to CNN.
Schiff tells @jeremyherb: “They would like this hearing to be about Director Mueller .. We would like to make sure that to the degree (Zebley) participates, that it may be on technical issues or other matters. We don’t want him as a substitute for Mueller’s voice.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) July 23, 2019
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