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Schiff tells Mueller that DOJ directive should have 'no bearing' on testimony

Schiff tells Mueller that DOJ directive should have 'no bearing' on testimony
© Greg Nash

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDNC plans to project image calling GOP 'party of Trump' on his DC hotel after Cheney vote Democrats fundraise off of vote to remove Cheney from GOP leadership Free Speech Inc.: The Democratic Party finds a new but shaky faith in corporate free speech MORE (D-Calif.) on Tuesday told former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump MORE that the Justice Department’s instruction that he limit his testimony to the four corners of his public report should have “no bearing” on his congressional appearance.

Schiff, who wrote to Mueller on the eve of his highly anticipated testimony on Capitol Hill, also accused the Department of Justice (DOJ) of trying to obstruct legitimate investigations by Congress by saying that Mueller’s testimony should remain within the boundaries of his 448-page redacted report.

“The DOJ Letter attempts unduly to circumscribe your testimony and represents yet another attempt by the Trump Administration to obstruct the authorized oversight activity and legitimate investigations of the Committee,” Schiff wrote to Mueller in a letter provided by a committee aide Tuesday evening.

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“The Committee categorically rejects the Department's overly expansive and baseless ‘prophylactic’ assertion of executive privilege in all its various forms. Accordingly, I fully expect that the DOJ Letter will have no bearing on your testimony before the Committee tomorrow,” Schiff wrote.

Schiff was responding directly to a letter issued to Mueller by Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer on Monday that asserted Mueller’s testimony should be limited to what’s in his public report. Weinsheimer argued that other discussions — such as talks about specific investigative steps or decisions — are covered by executive privilege. He noted that Mueller had asked for guidance in an earlier letter.

“Any testimony must remain within the boundaries of your public report because matters within the scope of your investigation were covered by executive privilege, including information protected by law enforcement, deliberative process, attorney work product, and presidential communications privileges,” Weinsheimer wrote.

Mueller, who is a reluctant witness and is testifying Wednesday under subpoena, has already indicated his testimony would not go beyond his report. Still, Democrats have reacted to the Justice Department’s letter as an improper effort by the Trump administration to influence Mueller’s appearance.

“While I understand that it is your intention to focus on the public version of your report, the Department’s attempt to restrict your testimony finds no support in law, regulation, or Department policy,” Schiff wrote Tuesday.

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Schiff also wrote that the subpoena issued to Mueller for his public testimony “placed no such limitations on the scope of your testimony” and that the committee did not agree to any limits during its behind-the-scenes negotiations over Mueller’s appearance.

Schiff indicated that the committee would respect efforts by Mueller to conceal information that could impact ongoing investigations but nevertheless asserted that he is wary of what he described as “selective invocations of Department ‘policies’ ” by Attorney General William BarrBill BarrLawyer for former officer charged in George Floyd death alleges witness coercion CNN legal analyst joins DOJ's national security division Barr threatened to resign over Trump attempts to fire Wray: report MORE, given his own description of Mueller’s conclusions.

Schiff also described the department’s position with respect to executive privilege as “untenable” and argued that it should have no bearing on Mueller’s testimony Wednesday.

Schiff asserted that the special counsel’s office “referred consideration of the evidence uncovered to Congress for scrutiny of the President’s actions” and described Mueller’s testimony as critical to the committee’s oversight activities and investigations.

Democrats have criticized Barr for his four-page memo laying out Mueller’s principal conclusions in late March, arguing it presented a misleading picture of the former special counsel’s findings in a way that aided the president. Mueller also objected privately to Barr’s memo in internal communications that have since been made public.

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Mueller’s investigation did not find sufficient evidence to charge members or associates of the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. His exhaustive report describes dozens of contacts between the Trump campaign and Kremlin-linked individuals and notes that the campaign welcomed the release of hacked Democratic communication by WikiLeaks.

Mueller also did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed the Russia investigation; Barr has judged the evidence as insufficient to accuse the president of criminal wrongdoing.

Mueller is slated to testify in back-to-back public hearings before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees on Wednesday in what promises to be an explosive day on Capitol Hill.

Intelligence aides signaled last week that lawmakers would ask questions outside the scope of the Mueller report.

Mueller will be accompanied Wednesday by one of his deputies, Aaron Zebley, who will advise him as counsel at both hearings. His testimony is expected to last roughly five hours.

The Justice Department and a spokesman for Mueller did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday evening.