Mueller deputy Aaron Zebley will accompany him at House hearings

Former special counsel Robert Mueller will have one of his closest deputies accompanying him for his high-profile testimony on Wednesday before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees after the panels gave the OK for Aaron Zebley to join as Mueller's counsel.

A Judiciary Committee aide confirmed the change Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours before Mueller was slated to appear before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees. 

Late Tuesday evening, an Intelligence Committee aide also said Zebley would be accompanying Mueller and would be sworn in at the second hearing Wednesday afternoon.

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Republicans first broadcast the possibility of Zebley’s appearance as a witness Tuesday afternoon on Twitter and elsewhere, claiming his late addition could run afoul of House rules.

Zebley is not expected to testify but will be there to advise his former boss as he faces a deluge of questions from Republicans and Democrats on the special counsel’s 22-month investigation. 

Mueller is scheduled to testify in back-to-back hearings before the Judiciary and Intelligence panels beginning at 8:30 a.m. 

When asked whether Zebley would also join Mueller for the Intelligence Committee’s hearing earlier Tuesday afternoon, Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTop intelligence community lawyer leaving position Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Democrats fear rule of law crumbling under Trump MORE (D-Calif.) said that he expected Mueller would be joined by someone in the special counsel’s office but that the panel was still discussing “precisely in what capacity that person will appear with him.” 

“I think it is certainly a desire of the special counsel to have one of his team present with him during the hearing. We are in discussions with them about that, and what that would look like, but our intention is that Mueller do the testifying and not have someone else do it for him,” Schiff said at a Center for American Progress event in Washington, D.C.

Mueller spokesman Jim Popkin told The Hill in a statement that Zebley’s appearance had been a matter of discussion with the committees over more than a week of negotiations.

“Aaron Zebley was the Deputy Special Counsel and had day-to-day oversight of the investigations conducted by the Office. He will accompany Special Counsel Mueller to the Wednesday hearings, as was discussed with the committees more than a week ago," Popkin said.

Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanTrump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify Booker, Merkley propose federal facial recognition moratorium Ex-Ohio State wrestler claims Jim Jordan asked him to deny abuse allegations MORE (R-Ohio), a prominent Judiciary member, first tweeted that it was possible Zebley would also appear at the witness table on Wednesday while blasting Democrats for changing the rules “right before kickoff.”

Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsTrump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify House to vote Thursday on removing ERA ratification deadline Anti-abortion group backs Loeffler's election campaign after opposing her Senate appointment MORE (Ga.), the top Republican on the committee, also said in a statement it was possible Zebley would testify and criticized Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerTrump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify Nadler demands answers from Barr on 'new channel' for receiving Ukraine info from Giuliani Trump predicts Ocasio-Cortez will launch primary bid against Schumer MORE (D-N.Y.), asserting the last-minute change would “jeopardize whether tomorrow's hearing complies with the rules of the House.”

Republicans have not since vocalized objections at Zebley appearing as Mueller’s counsel.

Still, President TrumpDonald John TrumpFed saw risks to US economy fading before coronavirus spread quickened Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Britain announces immigration policy barring unskilled migrants MORE lashed out at the developments, tweeting Tuesday evening that it was “unfair” that Zebley be permitted to accompany Mueller.

“Just got back only to hear of a last minute change allowing a Never Trumper attorney to help Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE with his testimony before Congress tomorrow. What a disgrace to our system. Never heard of this before. VERY UNFAIR, SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED. A rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted.

Zebley was one of Mueller’s closest associates who worked on the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference and potential obstruction by President Trump. Zebley previously served as Mueller’s chief of staff at the FBI. 

Zebley is one of two deputies on the special counsel’s team from whom House Democrats had sought closed-door testimony in addition to Mueller’s public appearance. As of last week, the closed-door testimony was off for the House Judiciary Committee, while the House Intelligence Committee was still negotiating with the Justice Department regarding the testimony.  

In recent days, Mueller has been preparing for his testimony with a small group of attorneys from the special counsel’s office at his former law firm of WilmerHale, Popkin told The Hill in an interview Monday evening.  

House Democrats had sought Mueller’s testimony on his investigation for several weeks. Mueller resisted a voluntary appearance before Congress, eventually leading the committees to subpoena him last month. 

Mueller was initially expected to testify on July 17, but his appearance was postponed one week to allow for an additional hour of questioning by the Judiciary panel in exchange for more time for the former special counsel to prepare. 

Updated at 9:35 p.m.