Robert Mueller, the special counsel, on today declined to clear President Trump of obstruction of justice in his first public characterization of his two-year-long investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said, reading from prepared notes behind a lectern at the Justice Department. “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”
He also said that while Justice Department policy prohibits charging a sitting president with a crime, the Constitution provides for another process to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing — a clear reference to the ability of Congress to begin impeachment proceedings.
Although his remarks closely matched statements contained in his more than 400-page report, Mueller’s portrayal of Trump’s actions was not as benign as Attorney General William Barr’s characterizations.
While Barr has seemed to question why the special counsel investigated the president’s behavior, Mueller stressed the gravity of that inquiry.
“When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable,” he said.
Former Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump ally, said Mueller contradicted Barr in his comments.
“Those comments by Bob Mueller about the other processes — obviously impeachment being the only constitutional way — definitely contradicts what the attorney general said when he summarized Mueller’s report and said he then had to draw the conclusion on that,” said Christie. “Mueller clearly contradicts that today in a very concise way.”
Mueller said he was grateful to Barr for releasing the vast majority of the document, and did not expect to comment on it further.
He said he was closing the special counsel’s office and returning to private life.
Trump and his advisers sought to play down Mueller’s comments.
Trump said that they made little difference and conflated Mueller’s assertions that his investigators found insufficient evidence to charge a conspiracy with Russia but declined to make a decision on obstruction because of the prevailing Justice Department view.
“The case is closed!” he wrote on Twitter.
Democrats pointed to Mueller’s remarks as a fresh call for them to investigate the president.
Representative Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Congress would continue to scrutinize the president’s “crimes, lies and other wrongdoing.”
He added, “No one, not even the president of the United States, is above the law.”
Nadler has sided with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats who have avoided calling for Trump’s impeachment, creating division in the Democratic Party.
In her own statement after Mueller’s remarks, Pelosi sidestepped impeachment.
Representative Justin Amash, the lone Republican in the House who supports impeachment proceedings, said, “The ball is in our court, Congress.”
Attribution:The New York Times