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‘Late Drama’: Republicans ‘Fumed’ Over Possible ‘Surprise Witness’ at Robert Mueller Hearing


Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller apparently made a last-minute request to have his former chief of staff at the FBI, Aaron Zebley, be sworn in alongside him on Wednesday. Republican lawmakers were not happy about this, believing that Zebley might have also been allowed to testify.

Politico’s Kyle Cheney reported that was not clear if House Judiciary Committee Democrats were going to allow this, while also reporting that Republican lawmakers were “fuming about the possibility, suggesting it could be a breach of House rules to change the format at the last minute.”

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, released a statement decrying the prospect of Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) allowing a “surprise witness at [the] Mueller hearing” in Zebley.

“Less than 24 hours before Robert Mueller arrives, the chairman is again allowing the committee’s business to devolve into chaos,” Collins began. “If true, the chairman’s unprecedented decision to allow a witness’s counsel to both advise him privately and simultaneously testify alongside him shows the lengths Democrats will go to protect a one-sided narrative from a thorough examination by committee Republicans.”

All of this appears to be quite overblown, however. Zebley will appear alongside Mueller as his counsel, not to testify.

Collins went on to call this an “apparent stunt” that is “unsurprising.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) expressed similar things, while Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) noted that Zebley once represented former Hillary Clinton aide Justin Cooper (the Blackberry hammerer guy).

What would we do without this “late drama”?

Zebley previously worked as a partner at the WilmerHale law firm with Mueller after their FBI days.

A 2014 press release extolled his experience:

Zebley has most recently been Senior Counselor in the National Security Division at the Department of Justice. Prior to his role as Chief of Staff to former FBI Director Mueller, Zebley was a Special Agent of the FBI in the Counterterrorism Division for seven years. In between his two tours at the FBI, Zebley served as an Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) in the National Security and Terrorism Unit in Alexandria, Virginia. During his tenure as an AUSA, he investigated and prosecuted crimes related to national security, terrorism, and violent crime.

Both Zebley and former assistant special prosecutor on the Watergate Special Prosecution Force James Quarles left the firm to join the Special Counsel’s Office in 2017. Democrats have sought to have them testify in private.

The Wall Street Journal reported the following about this on July 9:

Two former prosecutors on the special counsel’s team, James Quarles and Aaron Zebley, have been in negotiations to testify behind closed doors to the House Judiciary Committee on the same day that Mr. Mueller would appear in an open hearing before that panel and the House Intelligence Committee, according to people familiar with the matter.

Negotiations over Mr. Mueller’s appearance before the two panels—and the possible inclusion of Messrs. Quarles and Zebley—are fluid and ongoing, the people familiar with the matter said. The final format of the hearings haven’t been settled.

[Image via Alex Wong/Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.