Here's How Some Witnesses Are Prepped To Testify Before Congress

Nov 11, 2019
Originally published on November 11, 2019 6:30 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Public testimony begins Wednesday in the impeachment inquiry. These witnesses have already testified behind closed doors. Now they'll tell the world what they know about President Trump's phone call with Ukraine's president and whether Trump withheld aid money because he wanted investigations into his political opponents. A lot of preparation goes into these hearings. Attorney Stanley Brand has helped many witnesses get ready for congressional testimony, and he has served as general counsel to the House.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

STANLEY BRAND: Good day.

SHAPIRO: When a witness is trying to get ready for congressional testimony - and I know you specifically worked with impeachment witnesses - what kind of coaching goes into it?

BRAND: Well, generally, appearing in front of a congressional committee is different than appearing in court or a grand jury because the questioners are not bound by the same rules of evidence. And so you have to be prepared to have the witness first listen very carefully for a question and then answer the question precisely. The biggest challenge for any witness in one of these hearings is to keep them from putting themselves at risk under collateral statute of perjury or false statements. You want them to discipline themselves to speak not as they would in ordinary conversation casually but very precisely and carefully.

SHAPIRO: So there's a real threat of legal jeopardy, perjury. What about the public scrutiny that comes with this? If millions of people are watching you at home, and it's a divided country where people have strong political opinions on one side or the other, is there something you tell witnesses to prepare them for how their testimony is going to be received?

BRAND: Well, no, not in this circumstance because this is unlike a legislative hearing. And so basically, the goal in this hearing is to survive and get out in one piece without a trailing referral to the Department of Justice or some statement that comes back to haunt you in some other form. So there really isn't any concern, at least as I prepare witnesses, for the public and what they may think.

SHAPIRO: If a witness is looking to go in with a single sentence that they can repeat to themselves in their head to help them get through this successfully, is there a phrase you would give them, a sentence you would tell them to repeat?

BRAND: Well, in their heads, I would tell them listen carefully for a question and answer only the question. Don't volunteer and don't expand beyond the parameters of what you're asked.

SHAPIRO: Besides legal preparation, do you find that your clients sometimes need help dealing with personal confusion or emotion at being at the center of a huge public controversy like this?

BRAND: Absolutely because this is a very difficult forum with multiple questioners, with the media, with the pressure of being in the public sphere and having everybody focus very precisely on your testimony and try to pick it apart. And that can unsettle even a very stable, practiced witness.

SHAPIRO: So what do you tell them on that front to help them prepare for that aspect of it?

BRAND: Go to the gym. Work out.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BRAND: Get - you know, get into a state of mind where you are relaxed and prepared to listen. You need some stamina because these things can go on, obviously, for quite some time.

SHAPIRO: It's interesting because in some sense, as a spectator, it looks like a battle. But you're not saying prepare for battle. You're saying, get into a meditative state. Breathe deeply. Relax.

BRAND: Yeah, don't over-prepare for battle because I think that can actually be counterproductive. What you want to do is present yourself in a sober, direct manner and not open up any doors that could lead to a much longer and torturous appearance than you want.

SHAPIRO: Stanley Brand, thank you very much.

BRAND: My pleasure.

SHAPIRO: He's senior counsel at Akin Gump and was general counsel to the House of Representatives during Watergate. He also represented George Stephanopoulos during President Clinton's impeachment hearing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.