clock menu more-arrow no yes

The most important line in Wednesday’s Robert Mueller statement

Mueller isn’t saying Trump obstructed justice. But he’s not not saying it, either.

Special counsel Robert Mueller.
Special counsel Robert Mueller says the investigation is closed.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

In his first public statement since the special counsel report was released, Robert Mueller reiterated his key point: He’s not saying President Donald Trump obstructed justice. But he’s also not not saying that.

That was the most important line in his first public remarks since closing the Department of Justice investigation into the 2016 election, weeks after Trump-appointed Attorney General William Barr released a summary of the report and testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about Mueller’s findings.

“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said Wednesday. “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”

It’s a striking statement — and a reiteration of what he wrote in the report the Justice Department released nearly in full last month. For weeks, Republican lawmakers and Barr have repeatedly said the report showed no collusion and no obstruction. Mueller is making a point to say that’s not necessarily the case and that he can’t make the call — because of Department of Justice policy.

Here’s Mueller in his own words:

It explains that under long-standing department policy a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view, that too is prohibited. The special counsel’s office is part of the Department of Justice and by regulation it was bound by that department policy. Charging the president with a crime was, therefore, not an option we could consider.

[…]

It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge. So that was Justice Department policy. Those were the principles under which we operated and from them we concluded that we would not reach a determination one way or the other about whether the president committed a crime.

The special counsel’s report, a redacted version of which was made public last month, outlines 10 instances investigated by the special counsel in which Trump may have attempted to interfere with the investigation, as well as numerous connections the Trump campaign had with foreign actors. But Mueller and his team did not actually come to a conclusion on obstruction of justice.

Only one elected Republican, Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, has called for Trump’s impeachment since reading Mueller’s report, claiming that Barr intentionally misled the American public about its contents. But Republican leaders have been in lockstep against Amash, rallying around the president.

That said, the report did leave further investigation up to Congress, where Democrats now control the House. Committee leaders have called on Mueller to testify, but he made clear any testimony would not go past what he said in his exhaustive report.

His work is done, Mueller said.