Ready to fight, Trump says he'll watch 'a little' of Mueller

NEW YORK (AP) — He won't watch. Well, maybe just a little bit.

President Donald Trump on Monday feigned indifference to Robert Mueller's upcoming congressional testimony, an eyebrow-raising claim for a media-obsessed president who has been concerned for months about the potential impact of the former special counsel's appearance.

Much of Washington will stop in its tracks Wednesday as Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill for at least five hours, a nationally televised event that for many Americans will be their first detailed exposure to the former special counsel's findings on Russia's 2016 election interference.

The Justice Department on Monday told Mueller his testimony should not go beyond information that has already been released publicly.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office: "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 because you can't take all those bites out of the apple."

That was a shift from Friday, when Trump insisted that he would not watch any of Mueller's back-to-back appearances before two House committees.

Either way, the president has continued to wage war on the former special counsel's credibility, sending out a series of tweets Monday in which he deemed Mueller, without evidence, "highly conflicted" and said that "in the end it will be bad for him and the phony Democrats in Congress who have done nothing but waste time on this ridiculous Witch Hunt."

Trump's Twitter account may well be the main vehicle for the White House to respond to Mueller's testimony.

Though the probe did not establish charges of criminal conspiracy or obstruction, there has been growing concern among those close to the president that Mueller's appearance could push undecided or reluctant Democrats toward impeachment. Even so, there appears to be little evidence of an organized White House response plan to the hearings.

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 28: Former FBI director Robert Mueller attends the ceremonial swearing-in of FBI Director James Comey at the FBI Headquarters October 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. Comey was officially sworn in as director of FBI on September 4 to succeed Mueller who had served as director for 12 years. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama applauds outgoing Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) director Robert Mueller (L) in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on June 21, 2013 as he nominates Jim Comey to be the next FBI director. Comey, a deputy attorney general under George W. Bush, would replace Mueller, who is stepping down from the agency he has led since the week before the September 11, 2001 attacks. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller applauds key staff members during a farewell ceremony held for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW HEADSHOT)
391489 03: U.S. President George W. Bush speaks during a conference as he stands with Justice Department veteran Robert Mueller, left, who he has nominated to head the FBI, and Attorney General John Ashcroft July 5, 2001 the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller stands for the national anthem during a farewell ceremony for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (L) reacts to a standing ovation from the audience, Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole (C) and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (R) during Mueller's farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller gestures during his remarks at a farewell ceremony held for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
FILE PHOTO -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (R) and FBI Director Robert Mueller speak about possible terrorist threats against the United States, in Washington, May 26, 2004. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller reacts to applause from the audience during his farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., right, and FBI Director Robert Mueller make their way to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (C) delivers remarks at a farewell ceremony for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Also onstage with Mueller are Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole (FROM L), U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA Director George Tenet and TSA Administrator John Pistole. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 15: (L-R) Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton attend the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol May 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. Holder and other members of the Obama administration are being criticized over reports of the Internal Revenue Services' scrutiny of conservative organization's tax exemption requests and the subpoena of two months worth of Associated Press journalists' phone records. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Federal Bureau of Investigation oversight on Capitol Hill in Washington June 13, 2013. Mueller said on Thursday that the U.S. government is doing everything it can to hold confessed leaker Edward Snowden accountable for splashing surveillance secrets across the pages of newspapers worldwide. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (L) welcomes FBI Director Robert Mueller during their meeting in Kiev June 5, 2013. REUTERS/Efrem Lukatsky/Pool (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS)
FBI Director Robert Mueller (L) arrives for the Obama presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington. President Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term as President of the United States. Woman at right is unidentified. REUTERS/Win McNamee-POOL (UNITED STATES)
WASHINGTON, : FBI Director Robert Mueller answers questions before Congress 17 October 2002 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Mueller was testifying before the House and Senate Select Intelligence committees' final open hearing investigating events leading up to the September 11, 2001. AFP Photos/Stephen JAFFE (Photo credit should read STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)
(L-R) CIA Director Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director Robert Mueller testify at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 16, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
399994 02: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller visits the American military compound at Kandahar Airport January 23, 2002 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mueller had lunch with FBI officials and Haji Gulali, commander of the Kandahar region. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller (L) stand during the National Anthem alongside Attorney General Eric Holder (R) and Deputy Attorney General James Cole (C) during a farewell ceremony in Mueller's honor at the Department of Justice on August 1, 2013. Mueller is retiring from the FBI after 12-years as Director. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
399994 01: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller greets American forces on the American military compound at Kandahar Airport January 23, 2002 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mueller had lunch with FBI officials and Haji Gulali, commander of the Kandahar region. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: FBI Director Robert Mueller, center, talks with Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., right, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, talk before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 06: OVERSIGHT HEARING ON COUNTERTERRORISM--Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, before the hearing. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
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The president has a light schedule Wednesday morning, when Mueller begins speaking, before heading to West Virginia for evening fundraisers. The TVs aboard Air Force One are likely to be tuned to coverage of the hearings, and the president is expected to watch or be briefed on most of the proceedings, according to four administration officials and Republicans close to the White House. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal plans.

When Mueller was originally scheduled to appear last Wednesday, before a one-week postponement, the president's campaign scheduled a rally that night in North Carolina so Trump could offer a rebuttal. That won't happen this time, though the president's personal attorneys, including Rudy Giuliani, may issue their own statements, and talking points could be circulated among conservatives.

There is also an expectation within the White House that House Republicans will pepper Mueller with tough questions, though they may be less comfortable taking a swipe at the decorated war hero from the chambers rather than via Twitter or Fox News.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham has yet to make an on-camera appearance after nearly a month in the job. But Kellyanne Conway, senior counselor to the president, previewed the attack lines Monday.

"Well, I want the taxpayers to see the way the Democratic Congress is spending their money day in and day out. A do-over of the do-over of the do-over," Conway said on Fox News. "Now they want Bob Mueller, they want to drag him before Congress and have him read out loud. Bob Mueller book on tape, courtesy of the taxpayer, I don't think so. They also think you're stupid, America, that you can't read the report for yourself."

The nation has heard the special counsel speak only once — for nine minutes — since his appointment in May 2017.

This time, the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee will question Mueller in separate hearings on the report. Judiciary panel Democrats planned to practice with a mock hearing behind closed doors Tuesday, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were unauthorized to publicly discuss the planning.

Mueller plans to begin with an opening statement that a spokesman said would be similar in substance to his May 29 statement from the Justice Department podium. In that statement, he cautioned Congress that he would not go beyond the text of the report if called upon to testify and explained his team's decision to neither seek an indictment of the president nor exonerate him on obstruction of justice allegations.

Responding to a request from Mueller about limitations or potential privilege issues, a senior Justice Department official, Bradley Weinsheimer, told Mueller in a letter that the department expects that he will not stray beyond his report when he testifies. Weinsheimer also told Mueller that he should not discuss the redacted portions of his report or the actions of people who were not charged.

While the report did not find sufficient evidence to establish charges of criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to swing the election, it said Trump could not be cleared of trying to obstruct the investigation.

Because the report was dense and, at times, lawyerly, Trump allies have long fretted that while few lawmakers and Americans read the report, they might be swayed by Mueller's in-person testimony.

The president has spent months concerned about the prospect of the media coverage that would be given to Mueller, who Trump believes has been unfairly lionized across cable news and the front pages of the nation's leading newspapers for two years, according to three White House officials and Republicans close to the White House.

Before the report's release, Trump had feared a repeat — but bigger — of the February testimony of his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, which dominated news coverage and even overshadowed his nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam.

That worry has faded some in recent weeks. White House officials believe that the public has grown tired of the Russia story line and is growing more convinced that it has been propped up by Democrats and media figures frustrated that Mueller didn't topple the administration.

 

 

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