Former special counsel Robert Mueller, who is scheduled to testify on the Trump-Russia probe before Congress on Wednesday, July 24, will be accompanied by his right-hand aide, Aaron Zebley, who served as deputy special counsel under Mueller in the two-year Trump-Russia investigation.
Trump on Tuesday evening on Twitter called the move to have a “never-Trumper attorney to help Robert Mueller” with his testimony a “disgrace to our system.”
“Never heard of this before. VERY UNFAIR, SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED. A rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump wrote.
Just got back only to hear of a last minute change allowing a Never Trumper attorney to help Robert Mueller 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2019
Zebley, a lawyer, had for a time represented Clinton IT staffer Justin Cooper, who was responsible for installing Hillary Clinton’s private email server and destroying her mobile phones with a hammer.
In May 2017, Mueller took over the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The investigation was based on intelligence contained in what’s known as the “Steele dossier.” The dossier was paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC and was produced by Fusion GPS and former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.
Mueller is scheduled to testify on July 24 before the Judiciary Committee for three hours starting at 8:30 a.m. Afterward, he is scheduled to appear before the Intelligence Committee for two hours starting at 12 p.m. The planned testimony is the result of a June 25 subpoena (pdf) issued to Mueller by Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).
On July 23, Democrats on the House judiciary and intelligence committees granted Mueller’s request to have his Zebley accompany him.
“Aaron Zebley was the deputy special counsel and had day-to-day oversight of the investigations conducted by the office,” a spokesman for the special counsel’s office said Tuesday afternoon. “He will accompany Special Counsel Mueller to the Wednesday hearings, as was discussed with the committees more than a week ago.”
The Justice Department had objected to the Judiciary Committee’s efforts to interview Zebley and another Mueller aide, James Quarles, behind closed doors on July 17, Reuters earlier reported.
Zebley’s Links to Clinton Aide
Zebley worked at the FBI as a Special Agent in the Counterterrorism Division for seven years, then became chief of staff to Mueller when Mueller was serving as FBI Director.
He later joined the Department of Justice (DOJ) where he was an assistant U.S. Attorney in Virginia in the National Security and Terrorism Unit, and later was a senior counselor in the National Security Division.
When Mueller left the FBI to join the WilmerHale law firm in 2014, Zebley followed him there about a week later. Zebley was a partner at the firm for three years, before resigning in 2017 to join Mueller to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.
During this time, as a cybersecurity expert, he represented Justin Cooper in 2015 and 2016. Cooper is a former aide to President Bill Clinton and Clinton Foundation employee, who had set up and maintained a private email system that Hillary Clinton used for years while she was Secretary of State, according to Judicial Watch.
According to the FBI, Cooper was usually responsible for setting up Hillary Clinton’s mobile devices. FBI documents also say that “Cooper did recall two instances where he destroyed Clinton’s old mobile devices by breaking them in half or hitting them with a hammer.”
Fox News reported in 2017 that Zebley, as Cooper’s acting attorney, had “stonewalled” Senate investigators in their probe (pdf) of Clinton’s mishandling of classified information.
“Take that in for a minute. A lawyer who played a defense role in the federal investigation into Hillary Clinton is now playing an offensive role in the federal investigation into President Trump,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson said at the time on Zebley’s involvement in the Mueller investigation.
Rep. Steve King, (R-IA) told Carlson, “This whole thing screams of conflict of interest.”
“What’s so grotesque and ironic about it is the whole point of the independent counsel statute is to reassure the public that the investigation is above politics. That’s why it’s taken out of the hands of the DOJ leadership!” Tucker exclaimed at the time.
“So you’d think Mueller would go out of his way to make certain that no one on his team could be accused of partisanship, and yet almost all of them seem to have ties to the Democrat Party.”
Of Mueller’s team, most worked at the Department of Justice or FBI headquarters during the Obama administration. At least 13 registered as Democrats. That’s why Trump dubbed the Mueller team “13 Angry Democrats.” At least 11 of them made campaign contributions to Democratic candidates—mostly Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. None are currently registered as Republican.
Uncertainty Around Zebley’s Role
It’s unclear whether Zebley will appear as a counsel to Mueller or also as a witness.
The Hill reported that a Judiciary Committee aide said Zebley would appear as Mueller’s counsel before both the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.
Later, an Intelligence Committee aide said that Zebley would also be sworn in as a witness before the Intelligence Committee’s hearing in the afternoon, according to the Hill.
Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said that the potential for Zebley to appear as a witness “would now jeopardize whether tomorrow’s hearing complies with the rules of the House.”
Collins called the move, announced within 24 hours before the scheduled hearing, a “stunt.”
“This apparent stunt is unsurprising in light of the Democrats’ repeated attempts to circumvent, misrepresent and flout the rules and procedures governing this committee’s business.
“If Democrats believe it is 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.”
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
Schiff, who is chairman of the Intelligence Committee, made it sound as though Zebley would be sworn in as a witness but would be answering questions on “technical issues.”
“We would like to make sure that to the degree he participates, that it may be on technical issues or other matters,” he said late July 23. “We don’t want him as a substitute for Mueller’s voice.”
For Mueller’s July 24 testimony, Democrats are expected to focus on five areas of the report related to obstruction of justice, rather than on whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, Fox News reported.
Epoch Times reporter Petr Svab and The Associated Press contributed to this report.