‘Charging the president with a crime was, therefore, not an option we could consider…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) Former special counsel Robert Mueller upped the pressure on House Democrats who have hedged over whether to press forward with impeachment charges against President Donald Trump.
In his first and, likely, only public statement regarding the nearly two-year probe into Russian collusion, Mueller made clear that he thought Congress should act in order to give the president his day in court on claims of obstructing the investigation.
“The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” he said. “… It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge.”
Mueller clarified that, contrary to what many were led to believe, it was never within his scope of duties, as he saw it, to recommend filing charges against Trump.
“Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office—that is unconstitutional,” Mueller said.
“Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view, that too is prohibited,” he said.
“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.”
He was adamant, though, that his decision not to recommend obstruction charges, and rather to defer any further determinations to Attorney General William Barr, was far from an exoneration of Trump, in his own opinion.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”
Although praised by many for his discretion during the politically charged spectacle, Mueller’s mincing of words has been met with some criticism for failing to reach the conclusive determinations his office was tasked with.
His speech, running under 10 minutes with no follow-up questions, attempted to defend those decisions—or lack thereof—and address the rampant speculation as many have attempted to read the subtext of his report.
Mueller said he hoped the press conference would be his only public statement on the matter—apart from the report itself.
The report “contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself,” he said.
“And the report is my testimony,” he added. “I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.”
Mueller defended Barr’s decision to wait until redactions were finished and release the report in its entirety, despite asking Barr in a letter to provide more comprehensive summary versions.
“At one point in time, I requested that certain portions of the report be released,” he said. “The attorney general preferred to make the entire report public all at once, and we appreciate that the attorney general made the report largely public—and I certainly do not question the attorney general’s good faith in that decision.”
Partisan Democrats subsequently attacked Barr’s credibility and, ultimately, laid a trap to hold him in contempt of Congress for refusing to break the law by releasing a fully unredacted version of the report.
Mueller’s statement did little to add new information to the discussion over impeachment, although its impact on public perception could prove significant.
While much of what he wrote in the report has been spun through the punditry on nightly news broadcasts, his direct comments, for better or worse, add another strong voice to the rising clamor for Congress to file obstruction charges against Trump.
Despite the recommendation of perjury and obstruction charges from special prosecutor Kenneth Starr over Clinton’s extramarital affairs and sexual misconduct, Clinton’s fellow Democrats were mobilized by the partisan effort and gained seats in that year’s midterm election.
But there is no love lost between Pelosi and the president, and should public opinion reach its tipping point—or should at least 20 Republican Senators turn on Trump, providing enough to remove him from office—the San Francisco congresswoman would be poised to strike.
If Mueller’s announcement creates a cascading demand for a trial, it would then be left to both Congress and the public to determine, prior to next year’s election—in what would surely dominate all other issues—whether Trump was right to resist an investigation that was levied against him under false pretenses from the start.
Even if Democrats do not seek to impeach, however, Mueller welcomed their current path of continuing to investigate, saying it was “important to preserve evidence while memories are still fresh and documents available.”
Moreover, he said it would provide accountability “if there are co-conspirators who could be charged now,” hinting that Trump could be charged after leaving office.
Still, he said he won’t be a party to any of the ongoing fishing expeditions House Democrats have launched, which have included appeals to the special counsel’s office to provide them with any of Trump’s financial records that he was able to gain access to.
Mueller closed his remarks by underscoring one crucial point, often lost in the political navel-gazing between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill—that the broader underlying issue at hand was not about Trump at all but Russia’s efforts to meddle in American democracy.
“There were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election,” Mueller said. “And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.”