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Justice officials warn Mueller not to stray from his report

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has told former special counsel Robert Mueller not to stray beyond his report on Russian election interference when he testifies to Congress on Wednesday.

The department says in a letter that Mueller should not speak about redacted material from his report — including material pertaining to pending criminal prosecutions, “uncharged third-parties” and “executive privilege,” such as “presidential communications privileges.”

The letter is entirely in line with what Mueller has already said — which is that he doesn’t intend to speak beyond his report’s findings during Wednesday’s congressional hearings. But Democrats are preparing questions to highlight the report’s most damning details.

The department provided the letter Monday in response to what it said was a request from Mueller about limitations or potential privilege issues affecting his testimony.

Will Trump watch?

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.

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.”

Twitter response likely

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.

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.

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