Special counsel Robert Mueller issued his first public statement on his investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election, emphasizing one of the key points of his report: that his office did not conclude whether or not President Trump committed a crime.
In his statement, Mueller said his office could not bring criminal charges against the president because the team believed it to be unconstitutional.
“If we had had confidence that the president had clearly not committed a crime, we would have said so,” said Mueller, adding, “Charging the president with a crime is 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,” said Mueller, further explaining the reasoning.
Mueller announced that he was officially resigning from the Department of Justice and returning to private life. He said this was his final statement on the matter, and any testimony he might give to Congress would not go beyond what was in the report.
Mueller has been asked to appear by the House Judiciary Committee, but he hasn’t said if he will. He said no one — presumably referring to officials in the Justice Department or the administration — has instructed him one way or the other about his appearance.
“I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak to you in this manner,” said Mueller. “I am making that decision myself, no one has told me whether I can or should testify. There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made.”
“We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in an appearance before Congress. In addition, access to our underlying work product is being decided in a process that does not involve our office.”
Mueller did not take questions from the assembled reporters after the 10-minute statement.
The White House said it was notified on Tuesday night of Mueller’s plans to make a statement, and CNN reported that Mueller had briefed Attorney General William Barr on its contents. He had remained almost completely silent over the course of the nearly two-year investigation.
Trump, who had claimed vindication after Mueller’s report, tweeted that “Nothing changes from the Mueller Report.” He added his own spin to Mueller’s remarks: “There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you.”
The special counsel’s report concluded that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election “in sweeping and systematic fashion,” leading to the indictment of 34 individuals and three Russian businesses on charges ranging from computer hacking to conspiracy and financial crimes. Those indictments led to seven guilty pleas. Four people, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, were sentenced to prison.
A redacted version of Mueller’s 448-page report, released last month, found no conspiracy between Russia and Trump’s campaign. But it chronicled at least 10 episodes of efforts by Trump to obstruct the federal probe. And while the special counsel declined to charge Trump with obstruction of justice, investigators explicitly refused to exonerate the president despite his repeated public comments to the contrary.
“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” the report read. “We are unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
The findings have spurred calls by some Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan to pursue Trump’s impeachment. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has urged caution, saying she wants to see Mueller’s full unredacted report and hear testimony from current and former members of the Trump administration before considering it.
“Mueller’s statement makes clear what those who have read his report know: It is an impeachment referral, and it’s up to Congress to act,” tweeted Warren after the statement. “They should.”
“The ball is in our court, Congress,” wrote Amash.