Special counsel Robert Mueller said in a rare and remarkable public statement Wednesday his investigation could not clear President Donald Trump and that charging the President was not an option his office could consider.
In Mueller’s first public comments on the investigation since he was appointed special counsel two years ago, he emphasized that Justice Department guidelines did not allow him to charge a sitting President, and as a result, his office did not determine whether Trump had committed obstruction of justice.
“If we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said. “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the President did commit a crime.”
As he announced he was closing the special counsel’s office and resigning from the Justice Department, Mueller delivered a road map of how the investigation played out and the possible role that Congress could play in holding Trump accountable. Mueller highlighted how the “Constitution requires a process other than” the criminal justice system to hold officeholders accountable, a clear signal that his obstruction investigation into Trump could be picked up by Congress.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, whose committee would lead impeachment proceedings, said in a statement that Congress should now respond to Mueller’s findings.
“Given that special counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the President, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump — and we will do so,” Nadler said. “No one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law.”
Democratic presidential candidates immediately called for the House to begin an impeachment inquiry.
“Bob Mueller was essentially referring impeachment to the United States Congress,” said California Sen. Kamala Harris.
“Robert Mueller’s statement makes it clear: Congress has a legal and moral obligation to begin impeachment proceedings immediately,” tweeted Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who previously had taken a far more cautious stand on impeachment.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has thus far resisted calls to begin an impeachment inquiry, did not mention impeachment in a statement Wednesday, though she did suggest there was a potential for “future action” in Congress.
“I thank Special Counsel Mueller for the work he and his team did to provide a record for future action both in the Congress and in the courts regarding the Trump administration involvement in Russian interference and obstruction of the investigation,” Pelosi said. “Congress holds sacred its constitutional responsibility to investigate and hold the President accountable for his abuse of power.”
Mueller’s public statement did not appear to sway Trump, who has claimed the investigation exonerated him.
“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,” Trump tweeted minutes after Mueller’s statement ended.
The prospect of House Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry into the President, which has been simmering in recent weeks amid the White House’s stonewalling of Democratic congressional investigations, is not prompting the President to back down. A source familiar with Trump’s thinking said the President’s view on impeachment is “let’s do it. This fight will end up on our side. American people will see this as a scam. It is.”
‘The report is my testimony’
The special counsel highlighted what he wanted the public to take away from the 448-page report he issued on the investigation into Russian election interference and possible obstruction of justice.
House Democrats have been eager to have Mueller testify publicly, but his comments made clear he does not plan to do so.
“I hope and expect this will be the only time I will speak to you in this manner,” he said.
“It’s important the office’s written work speaks for itself,” Mueller said about his report, which was delivered in March to Attorney General William Barr. “The report is my testimony.”
For congressional Republicans, Mueller’s statement did not change their argument that it was time for Congress to move on.
“Today’s statement by Mr. Mueller reinforces the findings of his report. And as for me, the case is over,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham. “Mr. Mueller has decided to move on and let the report speak for itself. Congress should follow his lead.”
Mueller’s statement, which was delivered amid political disputes about the findings of Mueller’s investigation — particularly regarding whether Trump obstructed justice — emphasized that the special counsel’s indictments revealed how the Russians “launched a concerted attack on our political system.”
“There were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American,” Mueller said.
The Justice Department released a redacted version of the special counsel’s report last month. The report detailed numerous cases in which Trump asked his aides to take actions that would have obstructed the investigation, but stated they were unsuccessful because the aides refused his orders.
The report also says that the investigation into possible collusion found that members of the Trump campaign knew they would benefit from Russia’s illegal actions to influence the election, but didn’t take criminal steps to help.
DOJ policy on charging President
Charging Trump was “not an option” because Justice Department regulations prohibit charging a sitting president with a crime, Mueller said. His office was “bound by that policy.”
“It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of an actual charge,” he said.
Mueller called the subject of his investigation “of paramount importance,” and said that obstructing an investigation “strikes at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”
The White House got a heads up Tuesday night that Mueller would likely deliver a statement on Wednesday about the Mueller investigation, according to a senior administration official.
Barr also was given advance notice, according to a source familiar with the plans. Nadler, a New York Democrat, was also notified, a committee spokesman said.
Trump has claimed ‘complete and total exoneration’
Trump, citing a letter from Barr to Congress about Mueller’s conclusions, has previously said the investigation provided a “complete and total exoneration.”
But Mueller’s report only said the investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government,” and Mueller expressed concerns in a letter to Barr that the attorney general’s letter summarizing his findings didn’t fully capture his report, a source with knowledge of the letter has told CNN.
Trump has wavered publicly in recent weeks on the prospect of Mueller’s testimony before Congress as his administration has clashed sharply with lawmakers over demands for documents and testimony.
Asked earlier in May, the President said, “I don’t know. That’s up to our attorney general, who I think has done a fantastic job.”
Days later, Trump reversed course and said Mueller “should not testify” as the President resurfaced his regular complaints about the Mueller investigation, before switching back again and saying the decision would be up to “our very great attorney general.”
This story is breaking and will be updated.