Special counsel Robert Mueller, in his first public statement on the conclusions of his two-year investigation into Russian election interference, said that when it came to the question of whether President Donald Trump committed of obstruction of justice, “If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.”
But Trump had a bit of a different take.
“Nothing changes from the Mueller Report,” he wrote on Twitter shortly after Mueller concluded his remarks Wednesday. “There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed. Thank you!”
The president’s reaction is a bit more muted than his usual “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION.”
That might be because Mueller reiterated that the decision not to come to a prosecutorial judgment on the president’s conduct didn’t clear the president of wrongdoing. Rather, Mueller explained that “longstanding” department policy says a president can’t be charged with a federal crime while in office — and that Mueller, as a Justice Department employee, was bound by that policy.
Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2019
“Charging the president with a crime was, therefore, not an option we could consider,” Mueller said. The special counsel continued:
The department’s written opinion explaining the policy makes several important points that further informed our handling of the obstruction investigation.
Those points are summarized in our report and I will describe two of them for you.
First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting president, because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available. Among other things, that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could be charged now.
And second, the opinion says that the constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.
In other words, Mueller is suggesting that a political process — not the criminal justice system — is the venue to ultimately decide the president’s conduct.
Mueller examined 11 instances of possible obstruction of justice in his final report, including Trump’s efforts to remove the special counsel and efforts to pressure then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “unrecuse” himself from the investigation so he could win back control.
As for the “collusion” part of the investigation, Mueller said Wednesday (as he does in his report) that it was his team’s “conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.” But the special counsel also emphasized that Russia interfered in the American political system. “That allegation deserves the attention of every American,” Mueller said Wednesday.
Trump and his allies have gone on the offensive since the release of the report in April, downplaying the conclusions and scuttling Congress’s attempts to conduct hearings on the findings by calling key witnesses, such as former White House counsel Don McGahn.
Attorney General William Barr — who’s given fuel to allegations that the Trump campaign was illegally spied on by the FBI — is also conducting a review of the origins of the Russia investigation, with broad powers to declassify information related to the opening of the probe in 2016.
Mueller’s statement Wednesday marked the official end of his tenure and the closure of the special counsel’s office. But, with his final remarks, he reminded the public that the case is far from closed.