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Democrats and Republicans gird for Mueller testimony but with competing goals

Chris Megerian and Jennifer Haberkorn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- As a senior Justice Department official and then FBI director for 12 years, Robert S. Mueller III carefully guarded his reputation as a straight shooter in the midst of political upheaval and partisan warfare.

His square-jawed, just-the-facts approach will be put to the ultimate test Wednesday when the former special counsel testifies for five hours in nationally televised House hearings about the Russia investigation, which examined Moscow's interference in the 2016 election and President Donald Trump's attempts to shield himself from the probe.

Democrats and Republicans are plotting ways to transform his testimony -- first to the House Judiciary Committee and then to the House Intelligence Committee -- into a series of politically charged sound bites they can use to attack or defend the president.

Democrats plan to steer Mueller toward the most damning parts of his final report, particularly incidents where Trump directed underlings to fire Mueller -- none did so -- or discourage witnesses from cooperating with the special counsel's office.

The key question is whether Democrats can get Mueller to say point blank that Trump would have faced criminal charges if he weren't the president, a declaration that would further blunt Trump's false claims of full exoneration.

Republicans are expected to pursue a two-pronged approach. They'll try to undermine Mueller's credibility by suggesting his team was politically biased against Trump. They also want to highlight conclusions in the report that benefit the president, such as Mueller's determination that he could not establish a criminal conspiracy between his campaign and Moscow.

 

Both Democrats and Republicans have at least one thing in common: They expect to face a reluctant witness with a history of terse, dry answers to overheated congressional questioning.

"I think he will be equally parsimonious with both sides," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

Mueller did not want to testify, telling reporters May 29 that he would not go beyond the details contained in the 448-page report released six weeks earlier. But he agreed to appear on Capitol Hill after Democrats issued him a subpoena.

Jim Popkin, a spokesman for Mueller, said he's preparing for the hearing with a small group of former officials from the special counsel's office.

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