Mueller says his final words as special counsel, points out report does not exonerate Trump from obstruction
New York Daily News
Breaking his silence, special counsel Robert Mueller said he didn’t clear President Trump for obstruction of justice in his probe — and insisted Russia “systematically” interfered in the 2016 election.
“We did not make a determination if the president did commit a crime,” Mueller said. “Charging the president with a crime was not an option.”
Trump quickly hit back tweeting incorrectly that “nothing changes” and “the case is closed!” The president said there “was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent.”
In fact, Mueller effectively told the American people that it was up to Congress to make a determination about whether Trump obstructed justice, a virtual invitation for impeachment hearings to begin.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” said Mueller, in an extraordinary statement about a sitting president.
“The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing,” he said in an apparent reference to impeachment.
The normally camera-shy Mueller, who announced that he’s stepping down to return to private practice, had not spoken on national television since he was appointed special counsel more than two years ago.
Mueller cited Department of Justice policies barring indictment of a sitting president and suggested that he agrees with that policy because it doesn’t allow the president his day in court.
The stoic prosecutor also fiercely defended the report’s findings that Russia deliberately interfered with the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf.
“Multiple, systematic efforts were made to interfere with our election,” he said. “And that deserves the concern of every American.”
The 10-minute statement was a dramatic rebuke to Trump and is supporters who have downplayed Russian interference and denounced the probe as a “witch hunt” and a “hoax.”
Mueller also poured cold water on Trump loyalists’ claim that obstruction of justice was not a serious offense or that Trump couldn’t have committed obstruction because there was no underlying crime that could be proven.
“When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable,” Mueller said.
Although he appeared to be prompting Congress to act on his findings, Mueller warned Americans not to hope to hear much more from him even if Congress subpoenas him to speak.
“The words speak for themselves,” he said. “The report is my testimony.”
Trump critics quickly urged their colleagues to act immediately on Mueller’s statement.
“With respect to impeachment, all options are on the table and nothing should be ruled out,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) told a news conference.
“The ball is in our court,” said Justin Amash, the lone Republican lawmaker to call for impeachment.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not immediately change her wait-and-see approach to impeachment.
The White House echoed Trump’s denial with spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying that Mueller did not present any fresh evidence of presidential wrongdoing.
“The special counsel is moving on with his life,” Sanders said. “Everyone else should do the same.”
Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that there was “There was no collusion. There was no obstruction” even though Mueller pointedly did not say either of those things.
Mueller did not take questions at the statement. Barr was traveling in Alaska and was not present.
Congressional Democrats have been demanding that Mueller appear in public to discuss in details his shocking findings and Barr’s handling of his report.
After the statement, they renewed calls for him to answer questions in public. They have also issued a subpoena for the unredacted report and all evidence, but Trump and Barr have refused to comply.
Mueller pointedly mentioned that he was not involved in that fight over the White House’s stonewalling.
Trump, who incorrectly claims that Mueller’s 448-page report exonerated him, wanted Mueller to keep quiet. The president says Democrats want a “do over” to damage him politically and pave the way to impeachment.
Mueller had reportedly expressed reluctance to speak publicly because he does not want to become an even more politically polarizing figure.
Trump relentlessly trashed the probe as a “witch hunt” and denounced Mueller’s team as “13 Angry Democrats.”
Mueller’s two-year investigation resulted in charges against some 37 Trump campaign officials and associates. He said he didn’t find enough evidence to charge Trump or his campaign with conspiring with Russia, although he pointedly did not say there was no collusion as Trump and his loyalists have claimed.
The former Marine’s report detailed several controversial incidents in which Trump sought to undermine the probe or evade being held accountable.
Barr spun the release of the report in an extremely favorable light to Trump and released a four-page summary that Trump touted as a victory. Mueller wrote an extraordinary letter to Barr saying that the attorney general misrepresented his report. But Barr failed to tell Congress about that letter, sparking howls of outrage from Democrats.
Since the release of the report, Trump loyalists have sought to turn the tables Mueller and FBI officials who originally launched probes against Trump.
Barr has launched an official inquiry into the “origins of the investigation,” which Trump fans hope will uncover that some in law enforcement hoped to damage him politically.
After his initial “case closed!” tweet, Trump retweeted his campaigns statement seeking to pivot to the probe into why Trump’s campaign was “spied on.”
But Mueller poured cold water on the idea there was anything improper about investigating the Russian interference, which Trump has repeatedly denied or downplayed.
“I want to thank the attorneys, the FBI agents, the analysts, the professional staff who helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent manner,” he said. “These individuals who spent nearly two years with the special counsel’s office were of the highest integrity.”.
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